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Social distancing, self-isolation and shielding

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 only going outside for the reasons defined by the Government and taking precautions to stay safe and help stop the spread of coronavirus, such as staying 2 metres away from anyone outside of your household.

Everyone should be doing it. If you're over 70 or have existing health conditions you may want to take extra precautions, such as seeing if friends or family can pick up food for you or visiting outside spaces at times when they are less busy.


It's avoiding contact with others (even those you live with) and not leaving your home for any reason.

Anyone with a potential or confirmed case of coronavirus.


It means staying inside as much as possible and avoiding contact with others. Previously people who were shielding were advised to stay at home at all times but advice has now been updated so that you are able to visit outside spaces.

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

If 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

This means people who are not 'extremely vulnerable' should only leave the house for limited purposes. From 1 June these are: 

  1. To go to shops that are allowed to be open to buy things like food and medicine or to collect items you have ordered over the phone or online. 
  2. For leisure purposes in outdoor spaces. You may exercise outside as much as you like, but should stay 2 metres away from anyone who is not part of your household. You can also sit outside and rest. You can meet outdoors with up to 5 people from outside your household including in private gardens. It is essential that you maintain social distancing measures whilst seeing friends and family and stay 2 metres away from anyone outside your household. You should not go inside anyone else’s house unless you are accessing their garden or using the toilet. 
  3. Any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person. 
  4. Travelling to and from work, but only where this cannot be done from home. Avoid public transport if possible. 

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

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

If you are aged 70 or over, pregnant, or have a long-term condition, you are more at risk, so you may want to think about asking someone to pick up medication and food for you where possible, as well as doing any exercise indoors or, if you have one, in your garden and take extra steps to minimise time spent outside the 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 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.

There's more information on what to do in each of these situations 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.


People who are clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus have been given separate guidance. 

Previously the guidance was to not leave the house at all. However, from 1 June, the Government has said that people who are shielding are now able to spend some time outside. You can go to open spaces outside with members of your household or, if you live alone, with one person from a different household. If you are meeting up with someone outside of your household, you can reduce the risk by meeting up with the same person each time. 

If you decide to spend some time outside 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. 
  • Try to limit the amount of time you spend outside, for example by only going out once a day.

Although you can now go outside, you should not visit enclosed spaces, such as supermarkets or shops. Only essential visitors, such as carers or NHS staff, should be coming into your home. 

We know that being asked to shield is difficult, especially as restrictions are being lifted for other people. We also know that some people will be worried about the change of guidance for people who are shielding 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 will be reviewing the guidance for extremely vulnerable people by 30 June.

People who are considered extremely 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.

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Last updated: Jun 02 2020

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