Coronavirus: What are social distancing and self-isolation rules?

Coronavirus: What are social distancing and self-isolation rules?

Two people walking in Greenwich Park, London

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From Wednesday, individuals in England will be allowed to meet with one other person from outside their household if they stay outdoors. They will also be able to take part in more outdoor activities and exercise as much as they want.

However, people will still need to follow social distancing rules by keeping more than 2m (6ft) apart from anyone they don’t live with.

It’s part of the government’s ”careful steps” to ease lockdown measures for England.

Who am I allowed to meet?

The new guidelines allow one person to meet one other person from outside their household outdoors – as long as they stay more than 2m apart. They can also play a non contact sport together outdoors, such as tennis, if they stay distanced.

This easing only applies to two individuals from separate households, so, for example, someone wouldn’t be allowed to meet both their parents together.

It also means that having a barbecue in your garden for friends would not be allowed, even if you all stayed 2m apart. And you would not be able to invite people inside your home.

However, anyone who is shielding and has been asked to stay at home should continue to do so.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), is investigating whether to allow two households to socialise with each other, provided neither side mixes with other groups – this is known as a ”social bubble”. This would allow more social contact, and allow households to share childcare, while hopefully limiting transmission.

The government is also looking at ways small weddings could be allowed to take place.

Can I exercise with other people?

People in England are allowed to spend more time outdoors, for example to have a picnic in the park, provided they observe social distancing. They can also exercise as much as they wish and play certain non contact sports like golf tennis or basketball with one other person from outside their household.

However, they are still unable to use areas like playgrounds and outdoor gyms where there is a higher risk of close contact and touching surfaces.

People in England are free to drive as far as they like to outdoor open spaces. But they should not travel to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, or stay anywhere else overnight, including at a second home.

  • In Scotland and Wales, people have been allowed to exercise more than once a day since Monday.
  • In Wales people should start and finish exercise from home
  • In Northern Ireland you can drive to a safe space for exercise
  • Dogs can be walked as part of a person’s daily exercise

Why is social distancing necessary?

Social distancing is important because coronavirus spreads when an infected person coughs small droplets – packed with the virus – into the air.

These can be breathed in, or can cause an infection if you touch a surface they have landed on, and then touch your face with unwashed hands.

Why does the virus spread less outdoors?

Analysis – Philippa Roxby, health reporter

For many reasons, the transmission of viruses is less likely when ”fresh” air is involved – and that’s usually when people are outside.

Research shows that this coronavirus thrives in crowded, indoor spaces which is why pubs, restaurants and many workplaces have been closed and the public has been advised against using public transport.

Outdoors, it’s a different matter – and that’s mainly to do with what we know about how the virus is spread.

Most scientists agree there are three main ways infections could happen:

  • By touching a surface which has been infected by droplets and then touching your face
  • From tiny particles that stay suspended in the air
  • From larger droplets from coughing and sneezing that fall to the ground more quickly

When outdoors, we’re much less likely to come into contact with an infected surface, while any tiny particles of virus (called aerosols) would be dispersed by fresh air.

So the main remaining danger comes from large droplets, and staying 2m (6ft) away from other people – as social distancing guidelines recommend – should overcome that.

There are also natural elements working in our favour outside – breezes, air currents, rain, wind – which all dilute the possibility of the virus particles being passed from one person and landing on another.

The latest government guidance suggests the virus is less likely to be passed on in well-ventilated buildings, too. People are advised to open windows and use fans to increase ventilation.

What is self-isolation?

If you show symptoms of coronavirus – such as a dry cough and high temperature – you must take extra precautions.

You should stay at home and not leave it for any reason. This is known as self-isolation.

You should not go out even to buy food or medicine, and should order these online, or ask someone to drop them off at your home.

You can use your garden, if you have one.

What about those who are clinically vulnerable?

The advice hasn’t changed for those who have an underlying health condition which makes them “clinically extremely vulnerable” They are more likely to be seriously affected by coronavirus and should remain at home.

To minimise the risk, friends or family should drop off food and medicine at the door, or it should be ordered online. GP appointments should be over the phone, or online.

Others in the same household, and carers, can go out as long they observe proper social distancing.

People aged over 70 are advised to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside their household.

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