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Shielding, social distancing and self-isolation

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).

You can make your own choices when it comes to social distancing from friends and family. Though you should still do it when out and about.

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. 

The advice to shield is currently paused but there are extra precautions advised for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

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 1 April shielding guidance will be paused, there is more information below on what this means for you. This is because there are lower levels of coronavirus in the community and the impact of the coronavirus vaccine programme. The Government will be contacting you with further information.

People who are shielding are eligible for the coronavirus vaccine and if you haven’t already been invited you can contact the NHS by calling 119 or going online to book an appointment.

Everyone has to follow the lockdown rules. You can find these on our information about coronavirus page. If you're clinically extremely vulnerable there are some further precautions you may wish to take, 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 can meet with people from outside your household under the same restrictions in place for everyone, you can find these on our information about coronavirus page.

You should maintain socially distanced from those not in your household or support bubble.

You should minimise the number of different people you meet with and where possible should meet outside where risk of spreading and catching coronavirus is less.  


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, such as travelling at quieter times. You should wear a face covering on public transport and in taxis unless you are exempt.

Avoid car sharing with those outside your household.

Going to shops and pharmacies

You’re able to go to shops and pharmacies.

You may still wish to use online delivery options or for friends and family to do your shopping for you.

If you do go shopping, you might want to consider going at quieter times of the day and you should wear a face covering unless you are exempt.

If you previously had a priority delivery slot, these will continue until 21 June.

You can also use NHS volunteers who are able to collect and deliver shopping, medication and other essentials and there may be other local community services who can help.

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, where possible social distancing should be in place.

Going to work

Work from home if you can. If this isn't possible, you can go to work. Employers are required to put coronavirus protection measures in place to keep you safe, this may include regular testing.

The furlough scheme has been extended until 30 September and you continue to be eligible for furlough during this time so you may want to discuss this option with your employer or whether there are other roles that are suitable which allow you to work from home.

I've recently been told I'm clinically extremely vulnerable, what does this mean?

The Government and scientific experts have used data from the first wave of the pandemic to develop a tool to assess individuals and their risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus.

If you've received a letter or email letting you know you're considered high risk, it means a range of individual and health-related factors mean you're more likely to become seriously ill if you catch coronavirus. 

Anyone that's received this letter or email can get their vaccine as a priority. This means you should be contacted soon about booking a vaccination appointment if you haven't already.

It also means you're advised to follow the extra precautions we've outlined above.

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How do I know if this guidance applies to me?

These precautions apply to you if you've been contacted because you've been identified as high risk based on a range of factors, your GP or hospital clinician has told you that you're clinically extremely vulnerable or you're in one of the following groups:

  • solid organ transplant recipients
  • people with specific cancers:
    • people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy
    • people with lung cancer who are undergoing radical radiotherapy
    • people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
    • people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
    • people having other targeted cancer treatments that can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
    • people who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  • people with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • people with rare diseases that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), homozygous sickle cell disease)
  • people on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection
  • problems with your spleen, for example splenectomy (having your spleen removed)
  • adults with Down’s syndrome
  • adults on dialysis or with chronic kidney disease (stage 5)
  • women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.



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Can I keep caring for someone that's clinically extremely vulnerable?

Yes you can. 

To help keep you and the person you care for safe there are precautions you can take. Where close contact isn’t necessary you should try to maintain a distance of 2 metres. Throughout your visit take care to wash your hands regularly and wipe down frequently touched surfaces.

However, if you care for someone that's clinically extremely vulnerable and either of you develops coronavirus symptoms, you shouldn't continue to visit, even to provide care. 

Just in case, it's always a good idea to have an alternate plan in place. Is there a friend or another family member that could step in if you become unwell? If you don't have another option, and the care is essential, try and keep distance wherever possible. 

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How can I reduce my risk of catching coronavirus?

As well as the above guidance, you might want to consider the following

  • Maintain social distancing measures with those not in your household or support bubble.
  • If someone in your household or support bubble gets symptoms of coronavirus you should try to stay away from them as much as possible and make sure surfaces are regularly cleaned and hand washing is frequent.
  • Minimise social interactions with those outside your household or support bubble.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Wear a face covering whenever you're indoors in areas such as the GP surgery or hospital if you're able to.

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How do I access additional support e.g. accessing supplies?

While you’re able to go to the shops and get essential supplies you may still want to use online shopping options or there are some other options listed below:

  • Friends, families and neighbours may be able to pick up supplies for you.
  • NHS Volunteer Responders: online here or by calling 0808 196 3646. They may be able to support you in picking up essential supplies, check in and chat options and transport to medical appointments.
  • Your local Age UK.
  • You may still be able to receive support from your local council

If you already have a priority slot for supermarket delivery then you should keep this until June 21, after this you can still continue to book online delivery slots.

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Will I need to shield again?

Shielding will only be introduced again in areas where there is a significant rise in coronavirus cases and for a short period of time. You will be written to again if you are advised to shield.

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If I haven’t had the vaccine or my second dose, should I stop shielding?

The decision to pause shielding has been made based on the rates of coronavirus in the community which are currently low, which means that whether you’ve had the full dose of the vaccine or not the chance of contracting coronavirus is much lower.

It’s important to continue to follow the guidance and restrictions in place to reduce the risk of catching and spreading coronavirus and you are advised to take the extra precautions outlined above and in your communication from the Government to reduce your risk further.

If you haven’t had your vaccine yet, it’s not too late and you can go online here or call 119 to book an appointment, you can also wait to be contacted by your GP. It’s important that you go and get your second dose of the vaccine to offer full protection.

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

Social distancing

Due to low levels of coronavirus and the vaccine programme, you're now able to make your own decisions when it comes to social distancing from those you meet up with in line with the current guidance. This means in groups of up to 6 people or in groups of any size made up of no more than 2 households. 

However, that doesn't mean social distancing has stopped. It's still important in keeping the spread of the virus low, and you should continue to keep your distance (2 metres of 1 metre with extra precautions, such as a face covering) from those not in your household or support bubble when you're out and about. Social distancing guidance is likely to also be in place in settings such as businesses, health settings and workplaces. The guidance is also different in care homes

While close contact such as hugging will be allowed, you should still be cautious and consider that the other person may not be as comfortable as you. Some people may still want to keep their distance. Meeting in outdoor settings or well-ventilated indoor ones will still help reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading.

Some people such as those over 70, those who were advised to shield or those with a long-term health condition are still at increased risk from coronavirus and so you may want to consider not getting as close with them.

Deciding what you are comfortable with is a personal choice and you should not feel pressured into doing anything more you want to. To lower your risk of spreading and catching coronavirus, you might want to consider the following:

  • 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. 

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. 

Worried about variants in your area?

If you live in an area where a new variant is spreading, you're advised to take extra precautions to stop the spread. This includes things such as getting tested regularly and meeting outdoors rather than indoors where possible.

Read more about these extra precautions and find out if you live in an affected area



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. 
If you develop symptoms of coronavirus

If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, you should self-isolate and order a test as soon as possible by visiting or calling 119.

You and members of your household and support bubble will need to self-isolate until your test results come back. 

You may want to let others you've seen in the last 48 hours know you have symptoms and are waiting for a test. They don't need to self-isolate while you wait for your results, but they could take extra care when social distancing.

If you have been identified as someone who is extremely vulnerable and develop symptoms you should seek clinical advice using the NHS 111 online coronavirus service or call NHS 111. Do this as soon as you get symptoms.

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If you have a positive coronavirus test result

If you test positive for coronavirus, you will need to self-isolate for 10 days from the point at which you first developed symptoms. If after 10 days you still have symptoms, other than a cough or loss of taste and smell, you should continue to self-isolate. You do not need to continue to self-isolate if, after 10 days, you still have a cough or loss of taste and smell as these can last for several weeks after the infection has passed.

If you live with other people, all other household members must stay at home for 10 days from when you started having symptoms, or if you have tested positive without having symptoms, 10 days from the date of your test. If they develop symptoms of coronavirus, then they should also book a test right away. If the results come back positive then they should isolate for 10 days from the start of their symptoms, even if this means they need to isolate for longer than the original 10 days. After 10 days they will be able to return to normal, so long as they are feeling better. If their results come back negative then they must continue the isolation of 10 days with the rest of the household.

If you test positive for coronavirus, the NHS test and trace service will contact you by text message, email or phone call and ask you to share details of your recent interactions, including people you have recently had direct contact with.

You can find out more about how the track and trace service works here.

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If you have a negative coronavirus test result

If your test comes back negative, then you are at low-risk of having coronavirus. Other members of your household and support bubble will no longer need to self-isolate and if you feel well you can also stop self-isolating. However, if you still feel unwell it is better to stay inside as you may have another virus, such as a cold or the flu, so you should try not to be around other people.

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If you are asked to self-isolate by the test and trace service

If you have been in recent contact with someone who has received a positive coronavirus test result, you may be contacted by the NHS test and trace service and told to self-isolate for 10 days. Members of your household will not need to self-isolate with you unless you or they develop symptoms of coronavirus.

Read more about how the test and trace service works here. 

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What to do if you can't book a test

We know that some people are finding it hard to book a coronavirus test or get one in the first 5 days of developing symptoms. But if you can't book a test and have symptoms, then you and people you live with should follow the rules about self-isolating. 

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If you need to self-isolate after travelling abroad

The Government are constantly monitoring the international rate of infection and have produced a list of countries where the infection rate is low enough for people to travel to. If you travel to a country outside of this list, where the rate of infection is higher, then you will need to self-isolate for 10 days when you get back to the UK.  

The list is constantly being monitored and if the infection rate goes up in countries then the guidelines will change, and you will need to quarantine on your return.  

Check the Government website for more information on travelling abroad. 

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Ending self-isolation

After people have completed their period of self-isolation, they should continue to follow Government advice on social distancing. This means following Government guidance, staying two metres away from people (or following the one metre plus rule where this isn’t possible) outside of your household and support bubble, and continuing to take precautions, including washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.

If you or anyone in your household develops symptoms of coronavirus after your first period of self-isolation, or if you are contacted by the test and trace service, then you must start a new period of self-isolation. 

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When to seek medical assistance

If you have coronavirus, you should get in touch with the NHS for medical help if:

  • you still have a temperature after 10 days
  • your symptoms are getting worse
  • you feel you can’t cope with your symptoms at home.

You should do this by calling 111 or using the NHS online coronavirus service. Do not go to your doctor’s surgery or to hospital.

People who have been identified as extremely vulnerable should contact 111 straight away if they develop symptoms of coronavirus. 

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Last updated: May 25 2021

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