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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. 

For those who are not shielding, there are still some rules and exceptions that you should know about:

  • 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.
  • People are now allowed to meet six people from up to six households. A two metre distance must be kept between them.
  • 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 can be taken to protect extremely vulnerable people from coming into contact with coronavirus, by minimising all interaction between them and others. See who is classed as ‘extremely high risk’ below in our FAQs. 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.

Previously those who are shielding were advised not to leave their house at all. However, the guidance has now changed meaning they can no longer need to follow separate guidance to the rest of the public. The guidance which they should now follow is:

  • keep 2 metres away from people you do not live with
  • wear a face covering when necessary if you are able to do so
  • regularly wash your hands for at least 20 seconds

The food parcel service ended on 1st August 2020 but the use of the SMS Shielding Service will continue as will access to priority supermarket delivery slots.

The Scottish Government is creating new ways to support you. You'll:

  • still get updates from our SMS Shielding Service – you'll soon also be able to get regular updates on the COVID-19 infection rate in your local area through the SMS Shielding Service
  • be able to access help and support online – this includes up-to-date health guidance about a range of conditions, help in understanding what sort of activities are safer than others, and checklists on how to protect yourself in daily life
  • be kept on a list of shielding people, so we can contact you 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 our helpline on 0800 111 4000, if you need help from your local council

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 NHS 24 on 0800 028 2816 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. 

This means avoiding 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.

Current advice is to self-isolate at home for 10 days if you have symptoms, or 14 days if it is another member of your household.

Find out more what this might mean for you


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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