Coronavirus: What are the social distancing rules?

Social distancing remains a key part of the UK’s strategy for keeping people safe and preventing the spread of Covid-19.

It means keeping a certain distance away from people who aren’t in your household or bubble to lessen the risk of passing on – or catching – coronavirus.

What are the rules in each UK nation?

Each nation has slightly different guidance, although the rule everywhere is to stay at home except for very limited purposes.

Social distancing is important because coronavirus spreads mainly when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks, and transmits small droplets – packed with the virus – into the air.

These droplets can land in other people’s mouths or noses nearby or may be inhaled into the lungs. You could also be infected after touching a surface on which the droplets have landed.

The risks are far higher indoors than outdoors.

How can I meet other people safely and can we hug?

Social distancing is a key element of meeting others safely.

The only people you do not need to socially distance from are:

Otherwise, when seeing anybody else you must:

  • Follow social distancing rules
  • Avoid physical contact like a handshake or hug
  • Not be too close or face-to-face
  • Not shout or sing too close to them
  • Avoid touching other things which others have touched
  • Wash your hands before and afterwards

How many people can I meet?

Lockdowns are in force over most of the UK.

In England, nobody can meet anyone from outside their household or support bubble indoors.

People can exercise with one other person in an outdoor public place, such as a park, but cannot meet up with anyone else just to socialise. You should only leave your home once a day, and should not travel out of your local area.

You are also only allowed to meet up outdoors to exercise with one other person in most areas in Scotland (the mainland and the isles of Skye, Bute, Arran and Gigha), which are currently under enhanced level four restrictions.

Children under 12 do not count towards households or numbers when meeting outside in Scotland, and nor do they need to maintain physical distance from others.

In Wales you are currently not allowed to meet anyone outside your household or support bubble.

People living in Northern Ireland can meet outside in public places in groups of up to six people, from no more than two households (children count towards this total).

Across the UK, there is additional advice for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus.

They are advised to limit the time they spend outside their home, and only go out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential. They should not attend work, school, college or university.

Can I be fined for breaking the rules?

  • In England fines start at £200 for a first offence, doubling on each further offence up to £6,400
  • In Wales, fines start at £60, with each subsequent offence incurring a further fine of £120
  • In Northern Ireland, fines start at £200, doubling on each further offence up to £960
  • In Scotland, fixed penalty notices start at £60, doubling on repeat offences up to £960

Covid rule-breakers are now “increasingly likely” to be fined by officers, according to the Metropolitan Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick.