As the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, the British government has issued guidance to the nation on how to react to the outbreak. This is the latest advice on social distancing, when to self-isolate, and how to do so.

Social distancing for everyone in the UK

On 23 March, new guidance was issued by the government requiring the public to stay at home at all times apart for in a limited set of circumstances.

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  • Avoid contact with anyone displaying symptoms of Covid-19, the key ones being a high temperature and/or a new and continuous cough
  • Avoid non-essential use of public transport
  • Work from home unless absolutely necessary. However anyone who cannot work from home can still go to work. Any employees who need to stay at home to look after children but who face the threat of the sack by employers if they do not work should ask Acas for advice. 
  • Only leave the house for exercise once a day.
  • Use shops as infrequently as possible and only for basic necessities such as food and medicines
  • Avoid gatherings with your family or outside in groups of more than two people. Keep in touch using the phone, internet and social media.
  • Avoid sunbathing in public spaces such as parks. The government says this is in breach of its official guidance.
  • Use the phone or online services if you need to contact your GP or other essential services

If you do go out, stay two metres (six feet) apart from other people at all times and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

Shielding for high-risk groups

Anyone at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus should be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures. This group includes those who are 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions), and those under 70 with an underlying health condition – that is those advised to get a flu jab each year – such as chronic heart disease, heart failure, chronic liver disease, diabetes, hepatitis, Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, a learning disability or cerebral palsy. It also includes pregnant women.

The NHS in England has directly contacted 1.5m especially vulnerable people to strongly advise them to shield themselves by staying at home for a period of at least 12 weeks from 22 March.

They include those who have received an organ transplant; people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radiotherapy; people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow at any stage of treatment; people with severe chest conditions such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma (requiring hospital admissions or steroid tablets) and people with severe diseases of body systems, such as severe kidney disease.

Anyone in these groups should not attend gatherings or go outside for shopping leisure or travel. Food or medication deliveries should be left at the door to minimise contact.

When to self-isolate

The NHS advises you to stay at home for seven days if you have symptoms of coronavirus, however mild. It says these are either a high temperature – so you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature) – or a new, continuous cough, which means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours.

The seven days start when you first noticed symptoms.

Household isolation

If you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms of coronavirus, you must not go out for seven days. All other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. This is because an incubation period may be up to 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill. Take a look at this this chart.

Anyone else in the household who then starts displaying symptoms also needs to stay at home for seven days from when their symptoms appeared, even if they are near the end of the original 14-day isolation period.

After seven days, if the first person to become ill feels better and no longer has a high temperature, they can return to their normal routine. If any other household members become unwell during the 14-day isolation period, they should follow the same advice – that is, after seven days of their symptoms starting, if they feel better and no longer have a high temperature, they can also return to their normal routine.

People who remain well after 14 days are unlikely to be infectious, and at the end of the 14-day period, any family member who has not become unwell can leave household isolation.

How to self-isolate

  • Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
  • Always wash your hands when you get home or into work
  • Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
  • Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards
  • Avoid close contact with people who have symptoms of coronavirus
  • Only travel on public transport if your job is an essential one

If you have symptoms you do not need to contact 111 to tell them you’re staying at home, and testing for coronavirus “is not needed” if you’re staying at home.

If you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home, or your condition gets worse, or your symptoms do not get better after seven days, use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service. If you do not have internet access, call NHS 111.

Other advice on practicalities includes:

  • Ask friends or family to drop off anything you need or order supplies online, but make sure these are left outside your home
  • Keep in touch with friends and family over the phone or through social media

Anyone who lives with someone who has coronavirus symptoms must not leave the house at all for 14 days, even to buy food or other essentials, although exercise is allowed at a safe distance from others.

If you can, move any vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, out of your home, to stay with friends or family. If you cannot do so, stay away from them as much as possible and if they can, they should use a separate bathroom.

Reducing the spread of infection in your home

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often, for at least 20 seconds
  • Used tissues and disposable cleaning cloths can be stored securely within rubbish bags and should be put aside for at least 72 hours before being put in your external household waste bin
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in the home
  • Use a dishwasher if you have one – if you do not have one, use washing-up liquid and warm water and dry everything thoroughly
  • Routine medical and dental appointments should usually be cancelled while you and the family are staying at home
  • At present, there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs and cats can be infected with coronavirus

Looking after your mental wellbeing

  • Exercise indoors if you can. Look for ideas of exercises you can do at home on the NHS website
  • Do things you enjoy, which might include reading, cooking, other indoor hobbies or listening to the radio or watching television
  • Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, drink enough water, and avoid smoking, alcohol and drugs
  • Open windows to let in fresh air, get natural sunlight if you can, or go into the garden
  • You may go for a walk or exercise outdoors if you stay more than two metres from others
  • Take paracetamol to help ease your symptoms
  • Stay in touch with family and friends over the phone or on social media

Dog owners

You may leave the house to walk your dog once a day but you should minimise the time outside stay two metres away from anyone outside your household. Non-essential trips to vets should be avoided but if your pet needs urgent treatment, you may take them, after first ringing the vet. If you are self-isolating, you should ask someone outside of your household to walk your dog for you.

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