Anna Dunlop June 02, 2020

Since the coronavirus outbreak hit the UK, the situation has been constantly changing, and it's tough to keep up with all the advice, information and terminology. To help, we've put together a simple guide to help you understand self-isolation and social distancing and why they are so important. 

Social distancing

This is what EVERYONE in the UK should now be doing.

Social distancing is essentially taking steps to reduce your social interaction with other people. It will reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) and is particularly important for people who fall into the at-risk groups - the over 70s, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, respiratory disease and diabetes (for a full list see

Right now, everyone in the UK should still be practising social distancing:

  • Stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people (in England, the distance is now 1 metre or more)
  • Wash your hands with soap and water (or hand sanitiser if soap is not available) for at least 20 seconds when you get home.

Restrictions are starting to lift around the UK, but different rules apply in different areas. The below information is correct from July 4th 2020.


  • Two households of any size can meet indoors or outdoors and it doesn't have to be the same two households each time. Social distancing (over 1 metre) must be maintained unless the households are part of a bubble.
  • Outdoors, people from multiple households can meet up in groups of up to six (but two households can meet regardless of size)
  • There is no limit on the amount of time people can spend outside.
  • Exercise is now permitted with up to five others from different households, meaning small sports teams can resume fitness sessions. Social distancing must be maintained.
  • People can meet up anywhere and drive any distance to destinations such as parks or beaches.


  • Currently, up to eight people from three different households can meet, as long as they maintain social distancing. This while change from July 10th, where three households will be able to meet, indoors or outdoors.
  • There is no longer a five-mile travel limit, meaning people can meet up anywhere and travel for recreation.
  • Outdoor activities where social distancing can be maintained - such as golf, tennis, bowls and fishing - are allowed.


  • Currently, people from two different households in the same local area can now meet up outside - in parks or private gardens - but they must remain at least two metres apart. There is no limit on the number of people. Meeting up indoors is not allowed.
  • From Monday July 6th, travel restrictions will be lifted and outdoor attractions will be able to open.
  • Two households will also be able to stay together indoors from Monday.

Northern Ireland

  • Up to nine people who do not share a household can meet outdoors while maintaining social distancing.
  • Up to six people from two households can meet indoors, as long as they stay 2m apart.
  • There is no travel limit, meaning people can meet up anywhere.
  • Some sports including water activities, golf and tennis are permitted.

You should cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the bin. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in your home, wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitiser and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Those with symptoms and those in contact with someone with symptoms should self-isolate and people who are high risk (see below) should be self-isolating for 12 weeks.


This is for people who experience COVID-19 symptoms, but don't need hospital treatment, and also for those living in a household where someone is showing symptoms.

  • If you live alone and have symptoms of COVID-19, stay at home for 7 days from when symptoms started.
  • If you live with others, the first person to have symptoms must stay at home for 7 days, while all other household members must stay at home for 14 days from when the first person became ill - even if they have since got better.
  • If you can, move vulnerable people out of your home during the isolation period. If you can't move them out of your home, stay away from them as much as possible.

While you are self-isolating:

  • Do not go to school, work or public areas.
  • Do not use public transport or taxis.
  • Do not have visitors in your home.
  • Do not go shopping for food or other essentials. Use online delivery or get a friend or neighbour to shop for you and drop groceries at your door to limit contact.
  • Do continue to exercise if you are well enough, just stay at least two metres apart from other people.

If you live with someone in the at-risk group you should also:

  • Minimise contact with them as much as possible within the home. Keep all rooms well ventilated.
  • Remain two metres away from them at all times.
  • Use a separate bathroom if possible. If this is not possible, allow them to use it first and clean it after you use it. Always use separate towels.
  • Allow them to use the kitchen separately and take their meals back to their room to eat.

For more information on staying well during COVID-19, visit our coronavirus advice hub.

This information was correct at the time and date of publication. Always follow the Government's guidelines on self-isolation and social distancing – see for more information and the latest updates.



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