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Social distancing and self-isolation

Stay at home

The Government has asked everyone in the UK to stay at home. This means even people who may not be at a high risk should only leave the house for limited reasons. These measures are to help prevent the spread of the virus, and protect the most vulnerable.

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

Social distancing

This means people who are not at very high risk should only leave the house for limited purposes. These are:

  1. Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible and online delivery used wherever available.
  2. One form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household.
  3. Any medical need, or to provide care and essential support to a vulnerable person.
  4. Travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

The Government has made clear that these four reasons are exceptions and you should not otherwise leave your home.

For these activities you should continue to observe the advice to remain at least 2 metres apart from others (excluding members of your own household) and minimise time outside.

The Government has also closed all non-essential shops and community spaces, as well as all gatherings of more than two people in public.


There are a few reasons why you may need to self-isolate at home.

  1. If you or someone in your household has symptoms of the virus – a dry cough and/or a high temperature – then the Government has instructed you to ‘self-isolate’ at home. Current advice is to self-isolate at home for 7 days if you have symptoms, or 14 days if it is another member of your household.
  2. You are considered in an ‘at risk’ group and have been told by the Government you must stay at home and not leave for the next 12 weeks. The NHS will write to you directly with additional information if this is the case. In the meantime, check the NHS website if you are unsure.

Either way, this means you have to avoid all social contact, remaining in your home and only allowing essential visitors, such as NHS or care workers.

If you need to have something delivered or if family and friends are bringing shopping or other essentials, then they should drop them to the doorstep.

If you are considered in the ‘at risk’ group, your letter from the NHS will provide you with more information about how you can get support at home with shopping for essentials.

What do I do if I live in a shared space?

If you live with others there are some simple steps and precautions to take if you have symptoms, including:

  • Staying physically apart as much as possible. Sleep in separate rooms and use different bathrooms if you can, and minimise the amount of time you spend in shared spaces such as the kitchen. Try and stay at least 2 metres (3 steps) apart.
  • Regularly disinfecting frequently used surfaces such as kitchen counters.
  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly. Make sure to sneeze or cough into tissues, your elbow or sleeve. Dispose of tissues straight afterwards.
  • Don’t share food or use the same towels or crockery. Make sure anything has been washed thoroughly before it’s used by someone else.

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Last updated: Mar 26 2020

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