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

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

Three young men with bleached-blonde hair sunbathing in Manchester

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has introduced ”careful steps” to ease lockdown measures for England, which from Wednesday will include allowing the public to take as much exercise as they want.

Mr Johnson said people in England could now sit in the sun in the park – providing they observe social distancing – and could drive to other destinations to exercise. Previously, people were asked to only exercise outdoors once a day, and not sunbathe.

It’s expected that the new guidelines will allow two people from different households to meet in outdoor settings like parks if they stay more than two metres apart. Sports like golf, tennis, fishing and watersports will be allowed for people in the same household.

Wales and Scotland have also announced that from Monday people can exercise more than once a day.

Anyone who can’t work from home, such as those in construction or manufacturing is now being ”actively encouraged” to go to work – provided they practise social distancing both in the workplace and on their commute.

Fines for those who break the rules will now increase, the prime minister added.

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 should start and finish exercise from home
  • People in England can exercise more than once a day from Wednesday 13 May, including playing sport, provided they do so only with people from their households
  • People in England are free to drive somewhere to exercise
  • 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.

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 those with health conditions and over-70s?

The government says those who have an underlying health condition which makes them “clinically extremely vulnerable” 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.

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

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