Coronavirus and COVID-19

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

With all the talk about social distancing, social shielding and self-isolation, it's important to know what all 3 mean.

From 23 March, we all must stay at home.


Self-isolation applies to people who have symptoms of coronavirus and people who live with them.

If you live with someone who is 70 or over or who has a long-term lung condition, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.

In addition to social distancing steps, this involves:

  • Staying at home and not going out. Do not leave your home to walk (such as in a park) or to visit schools or other public places. You can go into your garden if you have one.
  • Staying away from other people in your home. Try to keep at least 3 steps (2 metres) away from others, particularly people over 70 or with a long-term condition
  • Sleeping alone if you can
  • Not having any visitors. Ask people to leave deliveries for you outside.

Social distancing

Social distancing is about ways to avoid catching and spreading coronavirus.

This is about significantly limiting face-to-face contact if you can and making sure that essential visitors (such as health care services, carers or family members) follow handwashing and hygiene advice scrupulously. They should not visit you if you are unwell but make other arrangements for your care.

You can go outside for a walk to the park or into your garden if you stay more than 3 steps (2 metres) from others.

Social shielding

This applies to people whose long-term lung condition means they are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

Shielding is a way to protect people who are extremely vulnerable from coming into contact with coronavirus by minimising all interaction between them and other people.

People in this group will receive a letter by Sunday 29 March from the NHS in England or be contacted by their GP to give further advice. They, or their carer, will also be able to register for a new service to get coronavirus support over the week beginning 23 March 2020.

They are strongly advised to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for at least 12 weeks, from the day they receive their letter. This period of time may change.

They should self-isolate. People who provide essential support, such as health care, personal support for daily needs and social care should continue to visit. But carers must stay away if they have any symptoms of coronavirus.

People in this group who think they’ve developed coronavirus symptoms of coronavirus should get advice from the NHS 111 online service or call NHS 111 as soon as they get symptoms.

What you can read next:

Current on: Tuesday 24 March 2020
Last updated: Tuesday 24 March 2020

If you have concerns or need advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

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Last medically reviewed: March 2020. Due for review: March 2020

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.