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Definitions: social distancing, self-isolating, shielding and vulnerable

The government has published guidance on protecting yourself and others from coronavirus.

Social distancing

Social distancing measures until 4 July

To continue to fight against coronavirus we must stay alert and stay safe. Social distancing measures are steps everyone must take to reduce social interaction between people. This will help reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

Until 4 July, you can:

  • Spend time outdoors in groups of up to six people from different households, following social distancing guidelines
  • Form a ‘support bubble’ with one other household if you live alone or are a single parent with dependent children
  • Attend a place of worship for individual prayer
  • Visit more shops and additional outdoor attractions e.g. zoos
  • Only travel on public transport if you are wearing a face covering.

Further government guidance about Staying alert and safe (social distancing) is available.

Social distancing measures after 4 July

The government has set out its plan to return life to as near normal as possible for many people as possible.

From 4 July:

  • You can meet in groups of up to two households in any location – public, private, indoors or outdoors. You do not always need to meet with the same households. You must socially distance from anyone not in your household or bubble at all times. If you are in a support bubble, this counts as one household
  • You can continue to meet in groups of 6 people from different households outside following social distancing rules
  • Some businesses and venues will be able to open such as restaurants, pubs, cinemas, libraries and places of worship
  • You can stay overnight away from your home with your own household or support bubble, or with members of one other household.


If you, or someone you live with shows symptoms of COVID-19 it is important that everyone in the household follows self-isolation guidance. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are any of the following:

  1. recent onset of a new continuous cough
  2. a high temperature
  3. a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell.

Self-isolation is where you remain at home for 7 days if you have symptons, or 14 days if you or someone you live with is displaying symptoms of COVID-19. During this period you must:

  • not go to work
  • not go to school
  • not go to public areas
  • not use public transport or taxis.

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, you should arrange to have a test to see if you have COVID-19.  If you test positive you will be alerted by text, email or a phone call.  Read the government guidance on the NHS test and trace service, and what to do if you test positive.

In summary:

  • If you show symptoms you must stay at home for 7 days from when the symptoms started. After 7 days, if you do not have a high temperature, you do not have to continue to self-isolate. If you do have a temperature after 7 days, you must wait to end self-isolation until you no longer have a temperature
  • If someone you live with shows symptoms you must stay at home for 14 days. The 14 days starts from the first day that someone in the household became ill
  • If during the original 14-day isolation period someone in the household displays symptoms, then they must stay at home for 7 days.

Shielded people: clinically extremely vulnerable

Some people are at greatest risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to specific medical conditions. These people are clinically and extremely vulnerable and must be shielded. People who are clinically and extremely vulnerable should have received a letter telling them they are in this group or would have been told by their GP.

The government has updated its guidance for people who are shielding.

Currently, the government advise that:

  • You can spend time outdoors but must remain 2 metres apart from others. Time outdoors can be spent with members of your household or one person from another household
  • You should not attend any gatherings e.g. parties, weddings, religious services
  • You should avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of COVID-19
  • You cannot be part of a support bubble.

From 6 July, the government advise that:

  • You can meet in a group of up to 6 people outdoors,  including people from different households, whilst maintaining social distancing
  • You no longer need to observe social distancing with other members of your household
  • You may form a support bubble with one other household

From 1 August the government will advise that shielding will be paused. From this date forwards you should adopt strict social distancing rather than full shielding measures. This means:

  • You can go to work if you cannot work from home
  • Clinically vulnerable children can return to education settings if they are eligible
  • You can go outside but should maintain social distancing.

Read the government guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19.

Clinically vulnerable people

Some people are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to particular health conditions.  These people are classified as “clinically vulnerable” and are advised to stay at home as much as possible, and to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside of their household if they do go out.  Guidance for staying alert and safe (social distancing) is available.

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