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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 as we begin to get back to some normality:

  • 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 friends or family members who do not live with them provided that they do so in an outdoor space and that a 2 metre distance is kept between them.
  • You can meet more than one household, but there should be no more than 8 people in a group. Whilst you cannot meet indoors you can use another household's bathroom. You should avoid touching surfaces and clean any that you do.
  • 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.

Those who are classed as extremely high risk should:

  • not leave their homes
  • minimise all non-essential contact with other members of their household

This is to protect those who are at extremely high risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) from coming into contact with the virus.

If you are classed as being ‘extremely high risk’  and live with someone else you should take the following precautions:

  • aim to keep 2 metres (3 steps) away from people you live with and encourage them to sleep in a different bed where possible
  • use a separate bathroom from the rest of the household, if you can - if you do share a toilet and bathroom with others, it’s important that they are cleaned after use every time (for example, wiping surfaces you have come into contact with)
  • consider drawing up a rota for bathing, with you using the facilities first
  • make sure you use separate towels from the other people in your house, both for drying yourself after bathing and for hand hygiene purposes
  • avoid using the kitchen while they are present
  • take your meals back to your room to eat, if you can
  • use a dishwasher (if you have one) to clean and dry the family’s used crockery and cutlery – if you don’t have a dishwasher, wash them using your usual washing up liquid and warm water
  • use a separate tea towel for drying crockery and cutlery

As the country begins to ease lockdown restrictments, some new guidance has been issued to those who are shielding which allows them to exercise outdoors, however, this will not apply to people living in nursing or residential homes.

The advice for those who are shielding is:

  • You can go for a walk, wheel, run, or cycle
  • Can go out on your own or with someone you live with
  • Should maintain strict physical distancing, also known as social distancing, at all times, even if you live with the person you're out with. This means keeping 2 metres (or three steps) away from other people at all times
  • Should not meet with anyone you do not live with
  • Should choose times and areas that are quiet, if you can
  • Should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds as soon as you get back home
  • There is no limit on how often, or for how long you can go out.

They can also take part in non contact sport such as golf and fishing.

You will now also be allowed to meet one other household outdoors - but in groups of no more than eight. They should not go into another person’s house, and no one else should enter theirs and they should maintain physical distancing, even with the people they live with.

The Scottish Government has written to all people who should be shielding. If you haven’t received a letter, but you think that you should have, then you should call your GP to discuss this with them. You can contact your local authority to inform them that you are shielding by calling your local authority’s shielding support line. This is where you can also arrange for help with delivery of food and prescriptions, as well as being signposted to other services. 

The Scottish Government have advised that anyone who has been advised to shield should do so until the 31st July. A letter will be sent by the Chief Medical Officer to all individuals confirming the extension.

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 7 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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