What is social distancing and self-isolation? The rules explained for day-to-day life and socialising

Social distancing and self-isolation have become the new buzzwords of the coronavirus outbreak. Two words that had barely ever been used prior to the pandemic. But what do they mean and how should you follow the advice?

What is social distancing?

This is what anyone who is not displaying any symptoms must now be practising – it means that you should not be in any gatherings or groups of more than two people (and only from your household) and maintain your distance from others if you are out in public.

Now that cinemas, theatres, restaurants, pubs and gyms are closed there is little temptation. However, Government advice now also restricts anyone from visiting friends’ houses and family members who do not live in their household. According to the new lockdown rules placed by the government on the evening of March 23, people can only leave their house now for the following four reasons:

  1. Shopping for necessities
  2. Once a day for exercise
  3. Medical need or providing care
  4. Travelling to or from work (if you can’t work from home

What is self isolation?

If you have symptoms of the virus – a new, continuous cough and a fever – and can look after yourself at home you should go into self isolation, NHS advice states. You can find the full guide here.

If you live alone do this for seven days from the day you first started displaying symptoms. If you live with others you should stay at home for 14 days, along with the people in your household. The difference in length is because of the 14-day incubation period of the virus. 

Can I go outside during self isolation?

If possible stay inside and ask someone else to deliver any food or medication to you – but make sure they drop supplies outside rather than coming into your home.

If you can, move vulnerable individuals out of your home to stay with friends and family.  If no one can help you can go out for essential supplies but avoid contact with others. Under no circumstances should you go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital to avoid spreading the disease to others. You may go outside to exercise if you feel well enough but stay away from others.

Should I self isolate within the home?

Yes, particularly if you have vulnerable people living with you. If you can, sleep in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. Otherwise use the bathroom and kitchen areas at different times and clean them after you have used them. Make sure you wash your hands regularly. Any waste, such as tissues, should be double bagged and kept apart from normal household waste for 72 hours before it is disposed of. 

When should self isolation end?

It’s complicated! If you’re self isolating for seven days you can finish at the end of that period if you feel well. If you’re self isolating for 14 days you can finish at the end of this period if you have not picked up the virus.  However, if you feel unwell during that time you must self isolate for a further seven days from the day you first showed symptoms. So, in theory you could end up self isolating for 21 days. 


Should I go to work?

If you can, work from home. This is not possible for everyone so talk to your employer about how to stay safe at work. 

Can I go outside?

Yes – you can go outside and as our lives will be very much curtailed over the coming weeks fresh air will be welcome. So go for a run, ride your bike and walk your dog but remember to maintain a safe distance from others. However, you can only go out once a day. 

Can I still meet up with friends?

All gatherings of more than two people are banned except for members of your own family. And these measures are in place for three weeks starting immediately.

Police will have power to issue on the spot fines of £30 for meeting without good reason.

Should I go and visit the grandparents?

No – it’s hard, particularly if they’re lonely and vulnerable. I know people who visit their older relatives and wave through the window or put notes through the door. Set them up on Skype or similar and schedule regular video chats. Try to remember older and vulnerable people at this time – we have a lot of advice here on how to ensure that your loved ones stay safe and happy during this time. 

Can my children meet up with friends?

No. playgrounds and any other parks with play areas in them are now closed. You may find yourself being thankful for things like the Xbox and Tik-Tok as it means that your kids will be able to stay in contact with their friends without physically having to meet up. 

Can I go to the gym?

No – all gyms are closed for the foreseeable future. With the longer days and warmer weather making a return, take the opportunity to exercise outdoors. This year’s London Marathon, which is set to take place in October, will be full of people who have put their coronavirus quarantine to good use. 

What about getting a haircut?

All non-essential shops have been closed and that includes beauty salons and hair dressers. Maybe time to experiment with clippers for men or go long for women and use home dye kits. Anyone who wants a bit of pampering could do some home facials.

Can I go shopping?

Only for medicines and other essentials such as food. Obviously online shopping carries less risk of disease transmission but don’t forget your local shops which may struggle to stay afloat during the shut down. Although many shops have closed, they are still open for online deliveries. 

Protect yourself and your family by learning more about Global Health Security 

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