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Posted: 19th March 2020

The difference between social distancing and self-isolation
Social distancing and self-isolation will help to limit the spread of COVID-19 between people.

Government advice for all UK residents

The UK government has asked everyone in the country to practise social distancing, limiting contact with other people and avoiding unnecessary travel. Whereas anyone displaying flu-like symptoms – or anyone living with someone who is – is being told to self-isolate. This article will clarify what these two phrases mean for all of us.


Social distancing

Everyone in the UK is being asked to take social distancing steps, to reduce transmission of COVID-19 between people. Social distancing means trying to avoid contact with other people by avoiding public spaces where possible. The government issued guidance states that this should include:

  • avoiding contact with anyone displaying symptoms of COVID-19
  • limiting use of public transport
  • working from home, where possible
  • avoiding social venues such as pubs, clubs and theatres.

These actions should be carried out in addition to increased handwashing and good respiratory hygiene. The government is advising people who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 to be particularly strict in following social distancing measures.



According to the government advice, anyone experiencing a persistent cough or high temperature should self-isolate at home for seven days. The NHS has stated that after seven days, if you still have a cough but no temperature, you no longer need to stay at home.

If you live with someone who has symptoms, the government states that you should self-isolate for 14 days from the day their symptoms started, as it can take 14 days for symptoms to appear.

Self-isolation will help to contain any possible cases of COVID-19 and will limit the spread to other people, most crucially, those who are considered ‘at risk’.

If you are self-isolating, you should stay indoors and avoid contact with other people. In practical terms this means you should:

  • stay at home
  • not go to work, school or public areas
  • not use public transport
  • avoid having visitors at your home
  • ask friends and family members to retrieve essentials like groceries and medications. Or use delivery services.

People who are self-isolating are being asked not to call their GP or NHS 111 to report their symptoms. If your condition worsens or you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home, government guidance states that you should use the NHS 111 online service or call 111 if you cannot get help online.

For more information, please visit www.gov.uk


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