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Shielding, social distancing and self-isolation

National lockdown

The Government has announced a new national lockdown in England and has advised anyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable to shield. You should only go out for outdoor exercise and to attend medical appointments. You should otherwise limit the time you spend outside of your home. You should not attend work or school. You can find more information below.

Social distancing, self-isolation and shielding are aimed at reducing close contact with others, however, there are some important differences. Here's what they might mean for you. 

What should I be doing?

This table explains what these terms mean and what you should do. There's more detailed information about each of these terms below.

  What does it mean? Who has to do it?
Social distancing

It means limiting our contact with people outside of our household and taking precautions to stay safe when going out. All of us should try to stay two metres away from people outside of our household or support bubble. Where this is not possible, we must follow the 1m plus rule- which means staying at least 1m away, while taking additional precautions, such as wearing a face covering if you can (in some settings it is now mandatory to wear face coverings, for more info see here).

Everyone should be doing it. If you're over 70 or have existing health conditions you may want to take extra precautions, such as visiting places at times where they are likely to be less busy.


It's avoiding contact with others (even those you live with) and not leaving your home for any reason.

You will need to self-isolate if: 

  • You or anyone in your household has symptoms of coronavirus or has tested positive for coronavirus. 
  • You have been contacted by the test and trace service and advised to self-isolate. 
  • You have travelled back from a country which is not on the UK’s exemption list and which requires you to quarantine.

It means strictly reducing your movements and staying inside as much as possible. You can leave the house for exercise and to access medical appointments and care. 

All those with particular health conditions who have received a letter from the NHS or your GP advising you to shield.

If you need urgent medical help, whether or not you have coronavirus symptoms, you should contact 111.

In an emergency, or if you are in immediate danger, call 999. If you are unable to speak, press 55 on a mobile.


From the 5 January, people who are considered extremely clinically vulnerable are advised to resume shielding across the whole of England. Although it's a good idea to follow this advice, it is optional. This guide is in place until 31 March. 

If this affects you, you'll receive a letter with more information. In the meantime, you can register for additional support, including priority shopping slots, here.

Everyone has to follow the lockdown rules. You can find these here. If you're clinically extremely vulnerable there are some specific considerations, we've listed these below.

Have you had your coronavirus vaccine?

People who have been asked to shield are eligible for their coronavirus vaccine. If you haven't already been invited for yours, you can contact the NHS by calling 119 or booking an appointment online.

Specific recommendations for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable

Meeting up with others

You're able to still go outside to exercise if you're able to do so. However, other than this, it's best to try and stay at home as much as possible.

You should avoid contact with anyone outside of your household or support bubble and maintain strict social distancing. 


You should avoid travelling unless it's essential.

If you need to travel you should walk or cycle if you can. For longer journeys you should plan your route to minimise the number of people you come into contact with.

Going to shops and pharmacies

You're strongly advised to avoid going to shops or the pharmacy wherever possible.

Instead, use online shops or ask those in your household or support bubble to pick things up for you. If you're finding it difficult to get what you need, NHS volunteers can help. You can also register for priority online delivery slots here.

You may also be eligible for free delivery for your prescriptions.

Accessing care and support

Everyone should continue to access the care and support you need.

The NHS is still open. You should still attend medical appointments and it's important to seek help if you need it. You can still have carers and visitors who help you with everyday tasks come into your home.

Going to work

Work from home if you can. If this isn't possible, you shouldn't go to work.

If you can't work from home, your employer may be able to furlough you. Alternatively, you may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay or Employment Support Allowance.

If you, or someone you live with, were advised to shield over lockdown you should be eligible for a free flu vaccine.

Social distancing

All of us should be keeping social interactions with people outside our household or support bubble to a minimum.

When you’re out and about at shops and if you’re meeting with others you should stay 2 metres away from those not in your household or support bubble.

If you’re over 70 or living with a long-term health condition, then you’re at increased risk from coronavirus. Going outside more often will bring with it some risk but for many people the benefits to their mental and physical well-being will outweigh this.

Deciding what you are comfortable with is a personal choice and you should not feel pressured into doing anything more you want to. If you do want to take extra precautions, there are some things you can do, such as:

  • Limit the number of people that you spend time with from outside of your household or support bubble as the more people you come into contact with the higher the risk of transmission. 
  • Avoid visiting places which are likely to be busy or where it will be difficult for you to keep your distance from others. You could try going at times when they are likely to be quieter, such as in the morning or during the weekday. Some supermarkets have protected hours available for people who are more vulnerable.

All of us should carry on washing our hands regularly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. It’s a good idea to carry hand sanitiser with you. Avoid touching your face and eyes when you are outside of your home. 


To help stop the spread of coronavirus it's important that anyone required to self-isolate does so. But knowing who has to self-isolate, for how long and the rules about what you can and can't do can seem daunting. We've outlined them below.

Who has to self-isolate?

You will need to self-isolate if you:

  • develop symptoms of coronavirus and are waiting for a test
  • have tested positive for coronavirus
  • live in a household or are part of a support bubble where somebody has a suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus
  • have been contacted by the test and trace service and told you have been in contact with someone with coronavirus and advised to self-isolate
  • have returned from a country which requires you to quarantine.

What are the rules if I have to self-isolate?

If you are self-isolating then you shouldn't leave your house at all. This includes going to work, doing the shopping or doing any exercise outside your home. You also shouldn't have any visitors at all, even family or friends.

The only exception is if you have a carer. Carers can still come into your home, but you must let them know you're self-isolating so they can take any necessary precautions. 

If you have any health appointments when you should be self-isolating, you need to contact the hospital or your GP and let them know the situation. In most cases, your appointment will simply be rearranged. However, in some circumstances, such as life-saving treatment, they're very likely to still go ahead. 

Do I have to self-isolate?

Yes, if required, you must self-isolate. From 28 September you can be fined up to £10,000 if you don't self-isolate after testing positive for coronavirus or being contacted by the test and trace service.

It's also illegal to provide any false information about who you've been in contact with to the test and trace service. 

What support is available if I have to self-isolate?

You might be worried about how you'll get your shopping and other essentials, such as prescriptions, if you're asked to self-isolate. See if friends, family or neighbours are happy to pick up what you need. However, they won't be able to pop in when they drop it off, they'll have to leave it outside. 

There are other options:

  • Consider ordering your shopping online or over the phone (someone else can do this for you).
  • You can get help with food and essentials through the NHS volunteers programme by calling 0808 196 3646.
  • Your local Age UK might be able to offer help. You can find the details of your local Age UK by entering your postcode here. You can also call our advice line on 0800 678 1602 and we might be able to help book a delivery slot for your shopping. 
  • The Government have information about accessing food and supplies, you can find that here
  • If you have no other means of support or you're in a local lockdown, contact your local council to find out what support's available in your area. 

What if I can't go to work because I'm self-isolating?

If you can't go to work because you have to self-isolate, and this means you won't earn any money, from 28 September you might be entitled to a one-off payment of £500 through the Test and Trace Support Programme Scheme. To be eligible, you must:

  • have been asked to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace service
  • be employed or self-employed
  • be unable to work from home and will lose income as a result
  • be claiming at least one of the following benefits
    • Universal Credit
    • Working Tax Credits
    • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
    • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
    • Income Support
    • Pension Credit
    • Housing Benefit

How can I make self-isolating easier?

As the test and trace programme is used more widely, it's likely some of us will need to self-isolate at some point and it can seem daunting. But you can do some things to make it that bit easier:

  • Think about things you might need, such as prescriptions and supplies. You don't need to stockpile, but just make sure you have what you'll need.
  • Keep a list of useful phone numbers handy, such as your local Age UK or your GP, in case you need some support.
  • If you're a carer, think about alternative arrangements if you can't leave the house.
  • Think about how you can stay busy or tick some jobs off while you have to stay at home – maybe it's the time to get your Christmas cards done and out of the way?
  • Keep in contact with people. Just because you can't see them face to face, you should still give them a ring and have a chat. 
  • Ask for help if you need it. It can be a difficult time, but if you need help with anything, don't hesitate to reach out to someone. 
  • Stay active as best you can. It's certainly trickier in the house, but make a point of trying to do what you can around the house to keep yourself moving. 

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Last updated: Feb 18 2021

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