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.


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.

Read more about what to do if you have symptoms of coronavirus.

Social distancing

Social distancing is about ways to avoid catching and spreading coronavirus. It is the guidance that applies to everyone, unless you are self-isolating or social shielding.

You can help control the spread of coronavirus by following the social distancing guidance, washing your hands regularly, working from home if you can and using a face covering.

Social distancing guidelines vary between the 4 nations, so it’s worth looking at the detailed guidance in England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

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 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:

Last updated: Friday 3 July 2020

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