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Coronavirus: What are social distancing and self-isolation?

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Strict rules have been placed on people’s personal movement to limit the spread of coronavirus. Rules for those showing symptoms were already in place, as well as measures to protect the most vulnerable.

Under the restrictions, everybody must stay at home and only leave for these reasons:

  • to exercise once a day – either alone, or with members of your household
  • shopping for basic necessities, although this should be done as little as possible
  • medical need, or to provide care for a vulnerable person
  • travel to or from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary

If you have to go outside you must stay more than 2m (6ft) apart from others. This is what’s known as social distancing.

Shops selling non-essential items are closed, along with cafes, pubs, restaurants, nightclubs and other places where people meet in groups. Gatherings of more than two people not from the same household are banned.

The restrictions were introduced on 23 March, initially for three weeks.

What are the rules on exercise?

People are allowed to take one form of exercise a day. The rules say:

But the Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has advised: “I would have thought for most people a walk of up to an hour, a run of 30 minutes or a cycle ride of between that, depending on their level of fitness, is appropriate.”

Some outdoor spaces, including playgrounds, outdoor gyms and some parks are closed. For example, Hammersmith and Fulham Council in London has shut all its parks, while Victoria Park in east London was closed this week because of “the failure of some visitors to follow social distancing guidance”.

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 if possible, not leave it for any reason, other than to exercise (staying a safe distance from others).

This is known as self-isolation.

If possible, you should not go out even to buy food or other essentials. If you are unable to get supplies delivered, you should do what you can to limit social contact when you do leave the house.

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 house or flat as someone with symptoms.

  • If you live alone, you must stay at home for seven days from the day symptoms start
  • 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
  • But anyone who fell ill on day 13 would have to start a separate seven-day isolation from that day (meaning they would spend a total of 20 days at home)

The person with the 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 being advised not to ring NHS 111 or their GP to report their symptoms unless they are worried.

Who shouldn’t go out at all?

About 1.5 million people with very serious health conditions are being contacted by the NHS and urged not go out at all for at least 12 weeks.

This is what’s known as shielding.

The most vulnerable group includes:

  • Certain types of cancer patients
  • Organ transplant patients
  • People with certain genetic diseases
  • People with serious respiratory conditions such as cystic fibrosis and severe chronic bronchitis
  • People receiving certain drug treatments which suppress the immune system
  • Pregnant women with heart disease

The government says it will work with local authorities, supermarkets and the armed forces to ensure they 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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