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Physical distancing and social distancing, shielding, and self-isolation

What does it mean?

Physical distancing and social distancing, shielding, 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. 

Coronavirus: a short guide

This information guide looks at the symptoms of coronavirus, how you can reduce the risk of catching the virus and spreading it to others, and how you can continue to look after yourself and others.

What is physical distancing and social distancing, and who should be doing it?

Everyone, including people who are high risk such as those who are over 70, should follow strict physical distancing, sometimes called social distancing, as outlined by both the UK and Scottish Government when possible. See who is classed as ‘high risk’ below in our FAQs.

This means limiting your contact with others as much as possible and staying at least 2 metres away from others. 

  • Shop as infrequently as possible. People should use delivery services if they are available and you must wear a face covering if you are able to do so.
  • Avoid public transport unless it is essential, and avoid going at peak rush hour times. You should also wear a face covering unless you have a health condition which means you are unable to do so.
  • When you meet up with people from other households you should keep to a two metre distance.
  • If you live alone you can form an extended household with one other household. You will be able to socialise indoors and you won't need to physically distance from members of this household. 

What is shielding, and who should be doing it?

Shielding is a range of measures that were introduced to protect extremely clinically vulnerable people from coming into contact with coronavirus, by minimising all interaction between them and others. Shielding has now been paused - this means that there will no longer be a separate shielding category and that everyone should follow the same guidelines for the most part.

Although shielding has been paused, the Scottish Government will continue to support people on the list. If you were shielding, you will:

  • still get updates from the SMS Shielding Service 
  • be kept on a list of shielding people, so you can be contacted directly if something changes, such as an increase in infection rates
  • be able to access guidance on returning to work or school
  • be able to contact the National Assistance Helpline on 0800 111 4000, if you need help from your local council
  • be able to sign up for priority access to supermarket online delivery slots

For further information and guidance please see the Scottish Government's website.

What is self-isolation, and who should be doing it?

If you or someone in your household has symptoms of the virus – a dry cough and/or a high temperature, and a loss in or change to your sense of taste or smell – then you must ‘self-isolate’ at home. You should book to be tested for COVID-19 either by calling the National Testing Centre on 0300 303 2713 or booking online on NHS Inform's website. Don't delay in doing this, book a test as soon as you start to feel symtoms. 

If you are asked to self-isolate you must avoid all social contact and remain in your home - 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.

Current advice is to self-isolate at home for 10 days if you have symptoms, and the rest of your household must do the same. If you have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, you will be asked to self-isolate for 10 days.

Find out more what this might mean for you


Who is classed as high risk?

The Scottish Government have said that people at high risk of infection should strictly follow physical and social distancing’ measures. As should anyone in their household.

People who are high risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) as:

  • People aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions or general health)
  • Anyone with an underlying health condition, including anyone who qualifies for the flu vaccine
  • Pregnant women

Underlying health conditions include:

  • chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
  • chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
  • chronic kidney disease
  • chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
  • chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
  • diabetes
  • problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
  • a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
  • being seriously overweight (a BMI of 40 or above)

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Who is classed as extremely high risk?

People classed as extremely high risk are to follow strict shielding measures. Others in their household should follow strict physical and social distancing measures in order to help protect them.

According to NHS Inform, people in the ‘extremely high risk’ group include:

  • those who have had an organ transplant and remain on ongoing immunosuppression medication
  • those with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • those with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia who are at any stage of treatment
  • those with severe chest conditions such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma (requiring hospital admissions or courses of steroid tablets)
  • those with rare diseases that significantly increase the risk of infections such as SCID and homozygous sickle cell
  • those with severe diseases of body systems, such as severe kidney disease (dialysis)

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Get the most up to date advice from NHS Inform

The development of coronavirus COVID-19 is rapidly changing and is being monitored carefully by the NHS and Scottish Government. If you do not have symptoms and are looking for general information, a free NHS helpline has been set up on 0800 028 2816

The Age Scotland Helpline

Call our helpline on 0800 12 44 222 for free to speak to an adviser. Open Monday to Friday 9am - 5pm.

Help us support more older people

Demand for our vital services is increasing rapidly. Please help us to be there for older people in Scotland who desperately need us during this crisis.

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