This page is reviewed regularly. Last update at 13:00 on 12th March 2021.

How to protect yourself and others

COVID-19 is spread from person to person. In particular, it is thought to spread between people that have close contact with one another (within 2 metres) and through infected respiratory droplets that come out when you speak, cough or sneeze.

To reduce your chances of becoming infected or infecting others, it is important to carry out social distancing, self-isolation when unwell or shielding (if you’re in the higher risk category of people that can become seriously ill if infected.)

Alongside these measures, the following steps also help to prevent the infection from spreading and should be carried out at all times by everyone:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water. If soap and water is not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand gel
  • When coughing or sneezing, do so either into a tissue or into the crease of your elbow. Dispose of used tissues immediately and wash your hands afterwards
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands
  • Stay away from people who are unwell
  • Stay at home if you are feeling unwell

    How to wash your hands

    Watch the video

    Wearing a face covering

    In England, it is mandatory for all residents aged 11 years and older to wear a face covering in shops, on public transport, and when attending hospital for any reason. For a full list of settings where you must wear a face covering and for rules in other areas of the UK, visit the page. It is also advisable to use them in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible. Face coverings should not be worn by children under 3 years old and people with breathing difficulties. For a full list of exemptions visit the page.

    When used correctly, scientific evidence suggests that face coverings prevent the spread of COVID-19 by people who don’t have symptoms. For more information on face coverings and how to use them effectively, read our face covering blog.

    Social distancing

    The aim of social distancing is to slow the spread of COVID-19 by reducing close contact between people.

    What is social distancing?
    COVID-19 spreads in a chain, from one person to the next, through close sustained contact. When combined with proper respiratory hygiene and regular hand washing, the aim of social distancing is to slow the spread of COVID-19 through limiting the amount of contact we have with each other, by breaking the chain of transmission. This can ultimately reduce the burden on healthcare providers, allowing them to better manage the number of COVID-19 cases that are still appearing.

    Social distancing measures include:
    • Working from home
    • Avoiding both large and small gatherings with friends or family, except those in your household or support bubble
    • Avoiding non-essential use of public transport
    • Keeping in touch using remote technology, such as mobile phones and the internet
    • If possible, keep 2 metres distance from people outside your household when you make essential shopping trips. If this is not possible, keep at least 1 metre apart
    • Minimising contact with people who show COVID-19 symptoms
    • Letting fresh air into your home during and following a visit from someone (for permitted reasons only)

    Who does social distancing apply to?
    • Everyone who does not have symptoms
    • People with underlying health conditions should be particularly stringent about following this advice, as they are at higher risk of developing severe complications of the virus.

    Social distancing works best when as many people do it as possible.

    Please be aware that additional local restrictions may be in place in your local area. Visit the UK Government Local COVID Alert Levels webpage to find out more and see local lockdown guidance for social distancing.


    The aim of self-isolation is to avoid infecting others with COVID-19 when you or someone in your household is unwell.

    What is self-isolation?
    Self-isolation means remaining indoors and avoiding contact with any other people, to avoid spreading the virus to your family, friends and the wider community.

    For practical tips on how to self-isolate, have a look at our self-isolation page and watch our video.

    Who does self-isolation apply to?

    The UK Government recommends that the following people self-isolate:

    People who have COVID-19 symptoms

      If you have a high temperature, a new continuous cough or anosmia, you need to self-isolate from the day your symptoms start and the next 10 full days. You should remain in isolation for as long as you have a fever, runny nose, nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea beyond that time. If you still have a cough or anosmia after 10 days, you do not need to continue self-isolating. This is because these symptoms can persist once the infection is over and it doesn’t mean you are still infectious.

      People who live with someone with COVID-19 symptoms

        If one person has symptoms of COVID-19, the rest of the household needs to self-isolate from the day their symptoms start and the next 10 full days, as it is likely that people who live in the same household will infect one another, or already be infected.

        If anyone else in the household gets symptoms, they need to stay home from the day their symptoms start and the next 10 full days, regardless of what stage of the 10-day isolation period they become unwell.

        When should self-isolation end?

        If you’ve been self-isolating because of COVID-19 symptoms, your self-isolation period ends 10 full days after the day your symptoms started. You may need to self-isolate for 14 days instead of 10 days if you live in supported living or a care home. If your household has been self-isolating, the self-isolation period ends 10 full days after the day your symptoms started for anyone that hasn’t developed symptoms. If someone in the household develops symptoms, that person must self-isolate the day their symptoms start to show and for the next 10 full days.

        Please note you could be fined if you do not stay at home and self-isolate following a positive test result for COVID-19 or if you are contacted by NHS Test and Trace and instructed to self-isolate.


        The aim of shielding is to protect the most vulnerable in our society from getting COVID-19.

        What is shielding?
        Certain vulnerable people must shield themselves from others - through taking extra steps to avoid catching the virus.

        Who does shielding apply to?

        Shielding is only done by people who are extremely vulnerable to the complications of COVID-19 because they have certain medical conditions that weaken the immune system or affect the body’s ability to cope with the virus.

        Clinically extremely vulnerable people are no longer advised to shield. However, you should continue to follow the guidance for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable and are advised to continue taking extra precautions to protect yourself.

        Watch our video guides

        • How to wash your hands

        • How to use hand sanitizer

        • Why it's important to wash your hands