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

Three young men with bleached-blonde hair sunbathing in ManchesterImage copyright
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to address lockdown measures for England on Sunday, although people have been warned “not to expect big changes.”

Both Wales and Scotland have announced an easing of rules to allow people to exercise more than once, from Monday. They emphasised that the “stay at home” message remains, as England moved towards new advice of “stay alert”.

So, what are the current rules?

What is a ‘reasonable excuse’ to go out?

The UK government says people should go out as little as possible and only leave home if they have a “reasonable excuse“. This includes:

  • Exercise – alone, or with members of your household
  • Shopping for basic necessities
  • Any medical need, or providing care for a vulnerable person
  • Travel to or from work, but only when you cannot work from home

What are the rules on exercise?

If you have to go outside stay more than 2m (6ft) apart from anyone other than members of your household. This is called social distancing.

  • In Scotland and Wales people can exercise more than once a day from Monday 11 May. In Wales they must start and finish exercise from home
  • People in England and Northern Ireland are asked to exercise once, although there is no legal ban
  • Government guidance urges people to “stay local” and use open spaces near home
  • However, National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) guidelines for England say driving to the countryside to walk is likely to be a reasonable excuse if far more time is spent walking than driving. In Northern Ireland you can drive to a safe space for exercise
  • The UK government hasn’t set formal time limits for exercise.
  • You are allowed to stop for a break, but short periods of exercise followed by long periods of inactivity are not permitted (so sunbathing is not allowed)
  • 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.

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.

Who should self-isolate?

Everyone who shows coronavirus symptoms – a fever of above 37.8C, a persistent cough or breathing problems – and everyone who lives in the same home.

  • If you live alone, you must stay at home for seven days from the day symptoms start
  • If you still have a high temperature after seven days, you must continue to self-isolate until your temperature returns to normal
  • However, you do not need to continue to self-isolate if you only have a cough after seven days (a cough can last for several weeks after the infection has gone)
  • If you, or someone you live with, develop symptoms, the entire household needs to isolate for 14 days to monitor for signs of Covid-19
  • If someone else does become ill during that period, their seven-day isolation starts that day. For example, it might run from day three to day 10 – when that person’s isolation would then end. It would not restart if another member of the household fell ill
  • Anyone who fell ill on day 13 would have to start a seven-day isolation from that day (spending a total of 20 days at home)

The person with symptoms should stay in a well-ventilated room with a window that can be opened, and keep away from other people in the home.

People are advised not to ring NHS 111 or their GP to report their symptoms unless they are worried.

What about older people and those with health conditions?

The government says people aged 70 and over, and those who have an underlying health condition, should remain at home. They are more likely to be seriously affected by coronavirus.

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.

The government says it will work with local authorities, supermarkets and the armed forces to ensure people get supplies of essential food and medicines.

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

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