Friday 27th March 2020

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


Refers to people with symptoms that may be caused by coronavirus, and do not require hospital treatment, who must remain at home until they are well. This also extends to those living in households with someone who shows symptoms that may be caused by coronavirus

Social distancing:

Measures everyone should all be taking to reduce social interaction between people in order to reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19). 


Shielding is a measure to protect people who are clinically extremely vulnerable by minimising all interaction between those who are extremely vulnerable and others. The guidance recommended that these patients should self isolate for 12 weeks (the time period for shielding may be changed) in order to reduce their risk of contracting the virus.  

A member of my household has been instructed to follow shielding measures, does the rest of the household also need to do this?

The whole household should at minimum follow the guidance on social distancing, reducing their contact outside the home. 

Within the home you should:

  • Minimise the time you spend in shared spaces (kitchen, bathroom, and sitting areas) and keep shared spaced well ventilated
  • Aim to keep 2 metres (3 steps) away and sleep in a different bed to the shielded person where possible
  • Use separate towels and, if possible, use a separate bathroom from the rest of the household, or clean the bathroom after every use (for example, wiping all surfaces you have come in contact with). 
  • Avoid using the kitchen when others are present, take your meals back to your room to eat where possible, and ensure all kitchenware is cleaned thoroughly. If you have one, use a dishwasher. If this is not possible, wash used utensils using washing up liquid and warm water, and then dry them thoroughly with a separate tea towel. 
  • Everyone in your household should regularly wash their hands, avoid touching their face, and clean frequently touched surfaces

If the whole household is able to follow this guidance, there is no need to take the full protective measures.

A member of my household has been in contact with coronavirus, what should I do?

  • The Government is currently advising that if you have symptoms and you live with a vulnerable person, you should try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days
  • If this is not possible, please stringently follow the rules above on how your household can protect a vulnerable member
  • If you need help with care and are unable to find an alternative please register for the support that you need at: www.gov.uk/coronavirus-extremely-vulnerable

What is the advice for visitors or carers?

  • Contact regular visitors to let them know that you are shielding and that they should not visit you unless they are providing essential care (e.g. help with washing, dressing or feeding). 
  • Any visitors should follow the general hygiene steps detailed above, including regular hand washing and the avoidance of face touching. Frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected regularly. 
  • If you receive health or social care from an organisation, either through your local authority or paid or by yourself, inform your care providers that you are shielding and agree a plan for continuing your care
  • Ask essential carers not to visit if they are feeling unwell and make alternative arrangements for your care. If you can, create a contingency plan for this scenario in advance. For advice on how to create a contingency plan, see Carers UK: https://www.carersuk.org/help-and-advice/practical-support/planning-for-emergencies
  • If you need help with care but you do not have anyone who can help you please register for the support that you need at: www.gov.uk/coronavirus-extremely-vulnerable


This article was accurate as of the 27th March 2020.