Social Distancing, Self-Isolation and Shielding

Social distancing, self-isolation and shielding are very important in order to protect yourselves and others from coronavirus. What is the difference between these terms, and which should you be doing?

Staying at home and away from others (social distancing)

The current Government advice for everyone in the UK is to practice social distancing by staying at home.  Some people are calling this time of limited movement ‘lockdown’.  This means:

  • Only going outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home)
  • If you go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times
  • Wash your hands as soon as you get home
  • Do not meet others, even friends or family. You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms.

Social distancing is the most effective way of preventing coronavirus spreading.  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.  You can go outside into your garden or for a walk or cycle in your local area as long as you stay more than 2 metres from others.

Click here to read more about social distancing, and what you can and can’t do during the lockdown.

Staying at home if you think you have coronavirus (self-isolation)

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

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 public places. You can go into your garden if you have one.
  • If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.  If you have to stay at home together, try to keep away from each other as much as possible.
  • Sleeping alone and using a separate bathroom if you are able to.
  • Not having any visitors.
  • Ask people to leave deliveries for you outside.

Click here for the latest information.

Protecting extremely vulnerable people (shielding)

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 Government is strongly advising people with serious underlying health conditions, which put them at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus, to rigorously follow shielding measures in order to keep themselves safe.

Patients with some Inherited Metabolic Disorders will fall into this group.  Your metabolic centre or GP will have advised you by letter if you are advised to shield.  This will mean staying at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for a period of at least 12 weeks from the day you receive your letter.

Shielding means not leaving your home at all, and minimising all non-essential contact with other members of your household.

While the rest of your household are not required to adopt these protective shielding measures for themselves, we would expect them to do what they can to support you in shielding and to stringently follow guidance on social distancing.

  1. Minimise as much as possible the time other family members spend in shared spaces such as kitchens, bathrooms and sitting areas, and keep shared spaces well ventilated.
  2. Aim to keep 2 metres (3 steps) away from people you live with and encourage them to sleep in a different bed where possible. If you can, you should use a separate bathroom from the rest of the household. Make sure you use separate towels from the other people in your house, both for drying themselves after bathing or showering and for hand-hygiene purposes.
  3. If you do share a toilet and bathroom with others, it is important that they are cleaned after use every time (for example, wiping surfaces you have come into contact with). Another tip is to consider drawing up a rota for bathing, with you using the facilities first.
  4. If you share a kitchen with others, avoid using it while they are present. If you can, you should take your meals back to your room to eat. If you have one, use a dishwasher to clean and dry the family’s used crockery and cutlery. If this is not possible, wash them using your usual washing up liquid and warm water and dry them thoroughly. If you are using your own utensils, remember to use a separate tea towel for drying these.

It will be difficult for some people to separate themselves from others at home. You should do your very best to follow this guidance and everyone in your household should regularly wash their hands, avoid touching their face, and clean frequently touched surfaces.  If the rest of your household stringently follow advice on social distancing and minimise the risk of spreading the virus within the home by following the advice above, there is no need for them to also shield alongside you.

Click here for more information on shielding, and to register for the additional support available.


For more information specific to Inherited Metabolic Disorders and coronavirus, please click here to read advice for patients, parents and carers.  You can also watch the recording of our recent webinar on IMDs and coronavirus here

If you have any questions, please contact us.