What's the difference between social distancing, self-isolation and shielding?

Self-isolation, social distancing and shielding have been introduced by the Government to help you and your loved ones stay safe from COVID-19. Find out what they mean in practice and what applies to you.
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Last updated: 03/08/2020

What is social distancing?

Social distancing refers to limiting face-to-face contact with others as much as possible. The Government's most up to date advice can be found here

To protect yourself and others, when you leave home you must:

  • wash hands - keep washing your hands regularly 
  • cover face - wear a face covering over your nose and mouth in enclosed spaces
  • make space - stay at least a metre away from people not in your household 

If you are feeling unwell, get a test and do not leave home for at least 10 days. 

Read more on what you can and cannot do

Should I be social distancing?

Yes, everyone should be social distancing until the Government instructs otherwise. 

Easy read guide on social distancing

Take a look at the easy read guide on social distancing: Keeping away from other people: new rules to follow from 23 March 2020.

Go to easy read

What is self-isolation?

Self-isolation is the most effective way to prevent the spread of coronavirus and should be done if you show symptoms of coronavirus including:

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

If you display any of the symptoms outlined above you must self-isolate at home for at least 10 days from when your symptoms started and order a test. 

Consider alerting the people that you have had close contact within the last 48 hours to let them know you have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). 

Following a positive test result, you will receive a request by text, email or phone to log into the NHS Test and Trace service website and provide information about recent close contacts. 

You and the rest of your household, even those that aren't displaying symptoms, must stay indoors where possible, avoid contact with others. This includes stopping day-to-day activities, such as shopping for food or collecting medication. 

If you are self-isolating it is a good idea to call on the help of family and friends to help you do tasks where you would need to go outside. If you do not have a close network nearby, contact your local authority or community aid groups for help.

Should I be in self-isolation?

The Government's advice is to self-isolate if:

  • people with symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) infection, who have received a positive test result 
  • people with symptoms that may be caused by coronavirus (COVID-19) who are waiting for a test result, or who have not been tested and do not require hospital treatment, who must remain at home until they are well 
  • people living in households with someone who shows symptoms that may be caused by coronavirus (COVID-19). 

If you live alone, you should stay at home for 10 days from when your symptoms started. If you live with others, then you must stay at home for 10 days from when your symptoms started. However, everyone else in the household who is well must stay at home and not leave for 14 days.

Further guidance for staying at home

Take a look at the Government guidance for households with possible coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.

Read more

What is shielding or social shielding?

Shielding or social shielding is used to describe how to protect those at highest risk of severe illness if they catch coronavirus. You can shield yourself following the Government guidance, and shield others by minimising all interaction between yourself and those who are most at risk.

Should I be shielding?

The guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable is that shielding has been paused. To find out what this means, click the button below. 

In the event of a local lockdown, see the information on the government site and visit Sutton Council's website for further guidance. 

If you're clinically extremely vulnerable, you are advised not to enter any area where shielding advice is in place. 

Find out more 

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It only takes five minutes and your feedback can help NHS and social care services understand the steps they can take to improve care for you and your loved ones. 

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More information on shielding

We've pulled together some information to help you understand what shielding means in practice.

Read more

What is a 'support bubble'?

In England, from 13 June if you live by yourself or are a single parent with dependent children - in other words, if there is only one adult in your home - you can expand your support network so that it includes on other household of any size. This is called making a 'support bubble' and means you are able to meet indoors or out, be less than 2 metres apart and stay overnight as your could if they were members of your own household. 

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