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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 only meeting up with people in outside spaces or 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.

From 1 August those who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable and were previously advised to shield can now follow strict social distancing guidelines.

Anyone who has been identified as clinically extremely vulnerable due to particular health conditions. 

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.


Social distancing

All of us should still be limiting our social contact with people outside of our households and continuing to take precautions to keep ourselves and others safe.   

The following guidance was updated on the 14 September and applies to everyone, including those who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable and have been shielding, although if you are in an area effected by a local lockdown you should check local advice.

  • When spending time with people you don’t live with or who aren’t in your support bubble, you can meet in groups of up to six, inside or outside. Children count as part of this group of six. It is illegal to meet in groups larger than six and you may be fined for doing so. There are some exceptions to this rule, for example you can meet in groups of more than six for work or charitable purposes. Our coronavirus page has a list of these exemptions.
  • When spending time with people you don’t live with or who aren’t in your support bubble, you should try to stay at least 2 metres away from one another. If this isn’t possible, you should try to follow the one-metre plus rule, which means staying one-metre apart while taking extra precautions, such as wearing a face covering, going outside where the risks of transmission are lower, or making sure the space is well-ventilated, by opening windows or doors. Make sure that you wash your hands with soap and warm water regularly.
  • Single-adult households in England can join up with one other household to create a support bubble. This applies to both people living alone and single parents with children under the age of 18 at home. Being in a support bubble with another household means that you can spend time with each other in inside spaces, without needing to keep your distance. Find out more by visiting our page on support bubbles.

If you are over 70 or living with a long-term health condition or have previously been shielding, then you are 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:

  • Meet up with people outdoors, as the risk of transmission is lower outside than inside. If you do meet up with people outside of your household in an indoor space, it is best to do so in larger, well-ventilated places. If you go to other people’s houses or have people to yours, open windows and doors to let air in.
  • 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. 


People with a suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus will need to self-isolate. This means that you should not leave the house at all. Do not go out to work, exercise, or to collect essentials. 

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 is outside of the UK's common travel area and which requires you to quarantine.

There's more information on what to do in each of these situations and how long you need to self-isolate for below. 

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

If you live with others and develop symptoms of coronavirus there are some precautions to take:

  • If you live with someone who is clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable, see if you can arrange for them to move in with friends or family. Stay physically apart from other people 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 and bathrooms.
  • 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.
  • Try and keep your house well-ventilated by opening windows.


From 1 August the advice to shield was paused, and you are able to follow strict social distancing rather than full shielding measures. This means you can visit shops and pharmacies, places of worship and go back to work if you cannot work from home and it is safe to do so. Food and medicine deliveries provided by the Government will stop however other forms of support such as priority online delivery slots and NHS Responders will continue. 

We know that some people will be worried about changes which are being made to the shielding guidance and will not feel comfortable leaving the house at all. It is ultimately your choice whether you decide to remain shielding or decide to leave the house in line with the current guidance. If you are concerned it is a good idea to speak to your GP or clinician about your worries. 

The Government are maintaining a list of people who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable and if guidance changes either locally or across the country you will be contacted with information on what this means for you.  

If you decide to spend some time outside or with others there are steps, you can take to help protect yourself: 

  • When you are outside you should stay at least 2 metres away from others. You should wash your hands with soap and warm water when you return to your home and try not to touch your face or eyes while you are out. 
  • Do not share personal belongings with others, for example cups or cutlery. 
  • Try to visit areas that you know are less busy or go at times when there will be fewer people around, for example in the mornings and during the week rather than at weekends. 
  • You may want to try to limit the amount of time you spend outside or limit the number of people outside of your household or support bubble you spend time with. This is because the more people you meet up with the greater the risk.  
  • You may want to consider wearing a face covering in places where it is not possible to socially distance. In some places, such as shops and on public transport, wearing a face covering is mandatory.  
  • If you meet up with people, it is best to meet in outside spaces where the risk of transmission is lower. If you do spend time indoors with people outside of your household or support bubble, open windows and doors to improve the ventilation.  

People who are considered extremely clinically vulnerable include:

  • people who’ve received solid organ transplants
  • people with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD
  • people with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell)
  • people on immunosuppression therapies which significantly increase the risk of infection
  • women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired
  • people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer
  • people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
  • people having immune therapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
  • people having other targeted cancer treatments which 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 kidney disease.