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Shielding, social distancing and self-isolation

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 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.
It means strictly reducing your movements and staying inside as much as possible. There is new guidance for those who were previously asked to shield.

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.


With new lockdown restrictions in place for England, there is new guidance for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable or were previously advised to shield.

We’ve outlined what the new guidance means for you below but everyone on the shielding list will be written to outlining this guidance and the support that's available.

Leaving the house

You're advised to stay at home as much as possible, except to exercise or attend essential health appointments.

You're allowed to go outside with people from your household or support bubble and, while you should keep social interactions to a minimum, you are able to meet up with one other person outside your household in public outdoor spaces. If you choose to do this you should take extra care, for example, meeting in outdoor places which are quieter and reducing the number of different people you meet up with.

You should also maintain a 2 metre distance from anyone not in your household or support bubble.

If you need support travelling to a medical appointment speak to your healthcare professional to arrange transport support with NHS Volunteer Responders.


You should work from home if you can, and if this isn’t possible you're advised not to go to work.

If you can't work from home you may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, Employment Support Allowance or Universal Credit. The Job Support Scheme that meant people could be put on furlough, has been extended until 2 December so you may also be eligible for this. You should discuss your options with your employer.

You can use the letter you receive as evidence you've been advised not to go to work.

If you live with someone who has been advised to shield and can't work from home, then you can continue to go to work but you should make sure to follow the guidance.

Shopping for essentials

You're advised not to go to the shops. If you already have a priority slot with a supermarket this will continue and you don't need to do anything.

If you need support accessing food then please register for support. There are a few things you can do:

  • You might have a friend or family member that can help you with your shopping.
  • You may be able to get access to priority supermarket deliveries if you don’t already have one.
  • You may also be able to get support for shopping by calling our Age UK helpline on 0800 678 1602.
  • You might be able to get help from NHS Volunteer Responders.

You should also avoid going to pharmacies if you can. For medicines and prescriptions, where possible you should ask friends, family, neighbours or volunteering services to collect your medicines for you. Pharmacies currently don't need your signature to provide medications.

If this isn’t possible you should contact your pharmacy, indicating that you're currently shielding and you should able to get your medicines delivered free of charge.

Accessing Support

If you need support to follow this guidance, such as accessing food or signposting to local services, you can register for support from your local council online here. You can also update any of your details via this link if you were previously accessing support.

If you're registering for the first time you will need to provide your NHS number. You can also contact your local council directly if you need help urgently or are unable to register for support online.

If you don't need support because you're supported by family and friends then it's still worth registering to highlight that you are supported in other ways. If your situation changes then you can update your support needs by logging in again.

To access support provided by NHS Volunteer Responders for you or someone you know you can call 0808 196 3646.

This is a worrying time for everyone and it’s important that you look after your physical and mental health while we are spending more time at home, you can find some guidance and tips on this here.

You may also be able to get support from your Local Age UK.

Accessing healthcare and carers

You're able to leave the house to access essential healthcare appointments and it's important that you continue to access the health service when you need it.

It may be the case that some appointments are able to take place from home over the phone or through online consultations, so you should discuss this with your healthcare professional. If you do need to attend an appointment in person, the NHS has measures in place to keep you safe.

In an emergency you should call 999.

If you have carers or visitors who support you with everyday needs, they can continue to visit and where possible should follow social distancing measures. Where close personal contact is needed this can continue but you may want to consider other measures such as wearing a face covering  and making sure hands and frequently touched surfaces are cleaned regularly.

What will the guidance be for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from 2 December?

From the 2 December England will be moving back into a tiered system. There’s different advice for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable in each tier. Although it’s a good idea to follow this advice, it is optional. While people won’t be required to shield, the Government may re-introduce shielding in tier three areas in the future. If this happens people living in these areas who are clinically extremely vulnerable will be written to. 

Everyone has to follow the tier rules in their local area. You can find these here. If you're clinically extremely vulnerable there are some specific considerations, we've listed these below.

If you, or someone you live with, were advised to shield over lockdown you should be eligible for a free flu vaccine.

Social distancing

All of us should be keeping social interactions with people outside our household or support bubble to a minimum.

  • From 5 November you can only meet up with one other person outside your household or support bubble in public outdoor spaces, such as parks or beaches. If you’re meeting up with another person you should do this by yourself, rather than with other members of your household. The exceptions to this are if you have young children under 5 or provide full-time care to a vulnerable person. In these circumstances your children or the person you care for would be able to come with you to meet someone from another household outside. There are also additional precautions you should take, such as trying to stay at least 2 metres away from one another where possible.
  • Make sure that you regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water.

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

  • 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. 


To help stop the spread of coronavirus it's important that anyone required to self-isolate does so. But knowing who has to self-isolate, for how long and the rules about what you can and can't do can seem daunting. We've outlined them below.

Who has to self-isolate?

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.

What are the rules if I have to self-isolate?

If you are self-isolating then you shouldn't leave your house at all. This includes going to work, doing the shopping or doing any exercise outside your home. You also shouldn't have any visitors at all, even family or friends.

The only exception is if you have a carer. Carers can still come into your home, but you must let them know you're self-isolating so they can take any necessary precautions. 

If you have any health appointments when you should be self-isolating, you need to contact the hospital or your GP and let them know the situation. In most cases, your appointment will simply be rearranged. However, in some circumstances, such as life-saving treatment, they're very likely to still go ahead. 

Do I have to self-isolate?

Yes, if required, you must self-isolate. From 28 September you can be fined up to £10,000 if you don't self-isolate after testing positive for coronavirus or being contacted by the test and trace service.

It's also illegal to provide any false information about who you've been in contact with to the test and trace service. 

What support is available if I have to self-isolate?

You might be worried about how you'll get your shopping and other essentials, such as prescriptions, if you're asked to self-isolate. See if friends, family or neighbours are happy to pick up what you need. However, they won't be able to pop in when they drop it off, they'll have to leave it outside. 

There are other options:

  • Consider ordering your shopping online or over the phone (someone else can do this for you).
  • You can get help with food and essentials through the NHS volunteers programme by calling 0808 196 3646.
  • Your local Age UK might be able to offer help. You can find the details of your local Age UK by entering your postcode here. You can also call our advice line on 0800 678 1602 and we might be able to help book a delivery slot for your shopping. 
  • The Government have information about accessing food and supplies, you can find that here
  • If you have no other means of support or you're in a local lockdown, contact your local council to find out what support's available in your area. 

What if I can't go to work because I'm self-isolating?

If you can't go to work because you have to self-islolate, and this means you won't earn any money, from 28 September you might be entitled to a one-off payment of £500 through the Test and Trace Support Programme Scheme. To be eligible, you must:

  • have been asked to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace service
  • be employed or self-employed
  • be unable to work from home and will lose income as a result
  • be claiming at least one of the following benefits
    • Universal Credit
    • Working Tax Credits
    • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
    • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
    • Income Support
    • Pension Credit
    • Housing Benefit

How can I make self-isolating easier?

As the test and trace programme is used more widely, it's likely some of us will need to self-isolate at some point and it can seem daunting. But you can do some things to make it that bit easier:

  • Think about things you might need, such as prescriptions and supplies. You don't need to stockpile, but just make sure you have what you'll need.
  • Keep a list of useful phone numbers handy, such as your local Age UK or your GP, in case you need some support.
  • If you're a carer, think about alternative arrangements if you can't leave the house.
  • Think about how you can stay busy or tick some jobs off while you have to stay at home – maybe it's the time to get your Christmas cards done and out of the way?
  • Keep in contact with people. Just because you can't see them face to face, you should still give them a ring and have a chat. 
  • Ask for help if you need it. It can be a difficult time, but if you need help with anything, don't hesitate to reach out to someone. 
  • Stay active as best you can. It's certainly trickier in the house, but make a point of trying to do what you can around the house to keep yourself moving. 

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Last updated: Nov 27 2020

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