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Social distancing means keeping apart from people to restrict the spread of coronavirus.

Rules and guidance have been relaxed across some parts of the UK, but there are some restrictions in Aberdeen, parts of northern England and Leicester.

What is social distancing and who is exempt?

The original rule across the UK was that you had to stay 2m (6ft) away from anybody outside of your household.

Those rules have now been relaxed in England and Northern Ireland.

You should still ideally stay 2m (6ft) apart. If that’s not possible, you can stay 1m (3ft) plus apart in England – and 1m apart in Northern Ireland – with extra precautions such as face coverings and not sitting face-to-face.

In Scotland the exemptions to the 2m rule only apply in some premises like pubs and restaurants – and face coverings are compulsory in shops. Also, children aged 11 or under no longer have to socially distance with others outside.

In Wales, while the 2m rule remains, the guidance has changed to reflect the fact it is not realistic to stay that far apart in somewhere like a hairdresser’s. Social distancing does not have to be observed by children aged under 11 in Wales.

But what about support bubbles?

The only people you do not have to distance yourself from are those you live with or people in your support bubble.

Support bubbles are allowed in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They apply only to single adults living alone or single parents with children under 18. Those people can “bubble” with one other household of any size, and visit each other’s homes with no social distancing.

In Wales, two households (four from 22 August) of any size can now join up in a similar “extended household”.

So, if you are not in a bubble or extended household, you should still observe social distancing with other people who may visit you at home.

At-a-glance: What can I do now?
Can I get facial treatment at a beauty salon?
Who can I meet outside?

Outdoors in England, up to 30 people from two households can meet, or a maximum of six people can meet from multiple households.

Social distancing between different households must be observed throughout.

In Scotland, up to 15 people from five different households can meet outdoors.

In Northern Ireland, up to 30 people who are not in the same household can meet outdoors.

In Wales, up to 30 people can now meet outdoors.

Where are stricter rules in place?

There are tighter coronavirus restrictions in parts of northern England, Leicester and Aberdeen

People from separate households are not allowed to mix with each other in homes or gardens.

What can’t I do in the local lockdowns?

How do I host guests safely in my home?

In England, two households up to a maximum of 30 people can meet indoors and overnight stays are allowed.

In Scotland, up to eight people from three different households can meet indoors while social distancing.

In Northern Ireland, groups of up to 10 people from four different households can meet indoors.

In Wales, up to four households – up from two – will be able to form an “extended household” from 22 August, as long as conditions “remain stable”.

When people you don’t live with enter your home you should try to keep windows and doors open for ventilation.

If you have guests coming for a meal, put crockery and cutlery in a dishwasher or hot soapy water (and then rinse in cold water) immediately after use.

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Experts recommend:

Wash hands before and after preparing food, eating and washing up
Put food straight on plates and don’t use large serving bowls
Avoid serving cold food which needs “handling” before and during meals, like cold meats or salads
Use detergent or soapy water to regularly wipe down tables and chairs where people put hands, fingers and elbows – then wash the cloth.
What about a socially distanced meal out?

Pubs, restaurants and cafes have reopened indoors across the UK – but they must follow safety guidelines.

You should expect to:

Book ahead
Give contact details
Follow a one-way system
Be offered table service only

Staff should practise good hand hygiene and social distancing, but they don’t have to wear face coverings.

The government advice to employers includes:

avoiding face-to-face seating
monitoring crowd density, and reducing the number of people in enclosed spaces
improving ventilation
changing shift patterns so staff work in set teams

Read the official hospitality guidance for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Where can I go on holiday without having to quarantine?How long should I self-isolate?

Self-isolating means staying at home and not leaving it.

People who have symptoms of coronavirus should isolate themselves for 10 days and arrange to get tested. Symptoms include:

a new continuous cough
a high temperature
a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell

Other members of their household should isolate for 14 days and not leave their homes.

If you test positive you will be contacted by contact tracers, who will establish who else you might have passed on the infection to.

Anybody they deem to be at risk will have to isolate themselves for 14 days from the point of contact.

Until recently, those categorised as “clinically extremely vulnerable” have also been self-isolating or shielding.

Shielding was paused in Northern Ireland from 31 July; in England and Scotland from 1 August, and in Wales on 16 August.

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What do all these terms mean?
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Antibodies test

A medical test that can show if a person has had the coronavirus and now has some immunity. The test detects antibodies in the blood, which are produced by the body to fight off the disease.


Someone who has a disease but does not have any of the symptoms it causes. Some studies suggest some people with coronavirus carry the disease but don’t show the common symptoms, such as a persistent cough or high temperature.

Containment phase

The first part of the UK’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus, which involved trying to identify infected people early and trace anyone who had been in close contact with them.


One of a group of viruses that can cause severe or mild illness in humans and animals. The coronavirus currently sweeping the world causes the disease Covid-19. The common cold and influenza (flu) are other types of coronaviruses.


The disease caused by the coronavirus first detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. It primarily affects the lungs.

Delay phase

The second part of the UK’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus, in which measures such as social distancing are used to delay its spread.

Fixed penalty notice

A fine designed to deal with an offence on the spot, instead of in court. These are often for driving offences, but now also cover anti-social behaviour and breaches of the coronavirus lockdown.

Flatten the curve

Health experts use a line on a chart to show numbers of new coronavirus cases. If a lot of people get the virus in a short period of time, the line might rise sharply and look a bit like a mountain. However, taking measures to reduce infections can spread cases out over a longer period and means the “curve” is flatter. This makes it easier for health systems to cope.


Short for influenza, a virus that routinely causes disease in humans and animals, in seasonal epidemics.


Supports firms hit by coronavirus by temporarily helping pay the wages of some staff. It allows employees to remain on the payroll, even though they aren’t working.

Herd immunity

How the spread of a disease slows after a sufficiently large proportion of a population has been exposed to it.


A person whose body can withstand or fend off a disease is said to be immune to it. Once a person has recovered from the disease caused by the coronavirus, Covid-19, for example, it is thought they cannot catch it again for a certain period of time.

Incubation period

The period of time between catching a disease and starting to display symptoms.

Intensive care

Hospital wards which treat patients who are very ill. They are run by specially-trained healthcare staff and contain specialist equipment.


Restrictions on movement or daily life, where public buildings are closed and people told to stay at home. Lockdowns have been imposed in several countries as part of drastic efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Mitigation phase

The third part of the UK’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus, which will involve attempts to lessen the impact of a high number of cases on public services. This could mean the NHS halting all non-critical care and police responding to major crimes and emergencies only.

NHS 111

The NHS’s 24-hour phone and online service, which offers medical advice to anyone who needs it. People in England and Wales are advised to ring the service if they are worried about their symptoms. In Scotland, they should check NHS inform, then ring their GP in office hours or 111 out of hours. In Northern Ireland, they should call their GP.


Multiple cases of a disease occurring rapidly, in a cluster or different locations.


An epidemic of serious disease spreading rapidly in many countries simultaneously.

Phase 2

This is when the UK will start to lift some of its lockdown rules while still trying to reduce the spread of coronavirus.


PPE, or personal protective equipment, is clothing and kit such as masks, aprons, gloves and goggles used by medical staff, care workers and others to protect themselves against infection from coronavirus patients and other people who might be carrying the disease.


The isolation of people exposed to a contagious disease to prevent its spread.


R0, pronounced “R-naught”, is the average number of people who will catch the disease from a single infected person. If the R0 of coronavirus in a particular population is 2, then on average each case will create two more new cases. The value therefore gives an indication of how much the infection could spread.


This happens when there is a significant drop in income, jobs and sales in a country for two consecutive three-month periods.


Severe acute respiratory syndrome, a type of coronavirus that emerged in Asia in 2003.


Staying inside and avoiding all contact with other people, with the aim of preventing the spread of a disease.

Social distancing

Keeping away from other people, with the aim of slowing down transmission of a disease. The government advises not seeing friends or relatives other than those you live with, working from home where possible and avoiding public transport.

State of emergency

Measures taken by a government to restrict daily life while it deals with a crisis. This can involve closing schools and workplaces, restricting the movement of people and even deploying the armed forces to support the regular emergency services.

Statutory instrument

These can be used by government ministers to implement new laws or regulations, or change existing laws. They are an easier alternative to passing a full Act of Parliament.


Any sign of disease, triggered by the body’s immune system as it attempts to fight off the infection. The main symptoms of the coronavirus are a fever, dry cough and shortness of breath.


A treatment that causes the body to produce antibodies, which fight off a disease, and gives immunity against further infection.


A machine that takes over breathing for the body when disease has caused the lungs to fail.


A tiny agent that copies itself inside the living cells of any organism. Viruses can cause these cells to die and interrupt the body’s normal chemical processes, causing disease.

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