If you think you have symptoms of coronavirus, or want to know about testing and tracing programmes, see this article.

This article gives an overview of official guidance and rules on lockdown, categories of vulnerable patients, and how to get helps. There are links to the full documents at the bottom of this page.

There are seven sections to the advice below:

Requirements for everyone – England
Requirements for everyone – Scotland
Requirements for everyone – Wales
Requirements for everyone – Northern Ireland
'Clinically extremely vulnerable' patients
'Vulnerable' patients
If you need support.

While the rules and guidance are broadly similar throughout the United Kingdom, there are detailed differences between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Links to rules and guidance in the devolved nations are included below.

General resources

NHS advice on what to do if you are unwell - UK
Working safely during coronavirus (contains links to equivalent advice for each devolved nation).

Requirements for everyone - England

In order to slow and reduce the spread of coronavirus, the Government is instructing everyone to remain at home, other than for a few specific purposes:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible
  • Exercise or taking part in an outdoor recreation activity with members of your household, or no more than one person from outside your household while maintaining social distancing
  • Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
  • Travelling to and from work, if you cannot work from home.

Even when doing these things, you should remain two metres (six and a half feet) or more away from anyone who does not live in your household.

Gatherings indoors of more than two people, other than people who live in the same household, are also prohibited.

Gatherings outdoors are permitted up to a total of six people from more than one houeshold. This can be in a public space such as a park, or a private space such as a garden. You are advised not to go into other people's homes, other than briefly in order to access the garden, or if you urgently need the toilet. Maintain good hand hygiene at all times, and do not share food with, or pass food to, people outside your own household.

The official guidance on social distancing gives an idea of what is and isn't permitted. Many things prohibited by the guidance are criminal offences, such as any indoors gathering of two or more people from different households (with very limited exemptions, including for work, to attend a funeral or for an emergency) - these rules were tightened as of June 1st.

Guidance on hand-washing and hygiene remains in place:

  • Wash your hands more often, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitiser when you get home or into work, blow your nose, sneeze, cough, eat, or handle food
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who have symptoms
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in a bin and wash your hands
  • If you can, wear a cloth face mask when you are indoors with people outside your household, and it is not possible to maintain social distancing (eg in some shops)
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in the home.

Resources for England

Staying alert and safe (social distancing)
Staying safe outside your home 
Guidance on staying at home for households with possible coronavirus – Public Health England
Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can't do

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Requirements for everyone - Scotland

In order to slow and reduce the spread of coronavirus, the Scottish Government is instructing everyone to remain at home, other than for a few specific purposes:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible
  • Exercise or taking part in an outdoor recreation activity (see below)
  • Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
  • Travelling to and from work, if you cannot work from home.

You may meet people who do not live in your household to take part in outdoor leisure activities. This can be in a public space such as a park, or a private space such as a garden. There must be no more than eight people at the gathering in total, from no more than two households in total. You should not meet people from more than one household per day. You should not travel outside your local area for leisure activities - as a rule of thumb, any further away than five miles might be considered outside your local area. You should not go inside someone else's home and you should avoid using shared facilities such as bathrooms; you should consider this when planning any gathering.

Even when doing these things, you should remain two metres (six and a half feet) or more away from anyone who does not live in your household, and maintain good hand hygiene.

No other gathering of more than two people from different households is permitted, except where they are for essential work purposes or to meet a legal obligation.

Resources for Scotland

Information for individuals and businesses in Scotland
Staying at home and away from others.

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Requirements for everyone - Wales

In order to slow and reduce the spread of coronavirus, the Welsh Government is instructing everyone to remain at home, other than for a few specific purposes:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible
  • Exercise or taking part in an outdoor recreation activity with members of your household – this should be done locally
  • Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
  • Travelling to and from work, if you cannot work from home
  • Numerous other specific exemptions, including giving blood and using waste disposal facilities.

Even when doing these things, you should remain two metres (six and a half feet) or more away from anyone who does not live in your household.

Public gatherings of more than two people are limited. People from two different households in the same local area may meet, provided this is outdoors. This can be in a public space such as a park, or a private space such as a garden. The 'same local area' means within approximately five miles, although this is not a firm limit. Even when doing this, you should remain two metres (six and a half feet) or more away from anyone who does not live in your household, and maintain good hand hygiene. Previous exemptions for gatherings of two or more people remain in place: 

  • For people from the same household
  • For essential work purposes
  • To attend a funeral, if invited to do so
  • To move house
  • To help a vulnerable person
  • To help someone in an emergency
  • To meet a legal obligation or take part in legal proceedings.

Resources for Wales

Coronavirus regulations FAQs
Staying at home and away from others.

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Requirements for everyone – Northern Ireland

In order to slow and reduce the spread of coronavirus, the Northern Ireland Executive is instructing everyone to remain at home, other than for a few specific purposes:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible
  • Exercise or taking part in an outdoor recreation activity with members of your household, or outdoor gatherings of 4-6 people from different households, provided they maintain social distancing
  • Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
  • Travelling to and from work, if you cannot work from home
  • Attending a funeral of a family member.

Even when doing these things, you should remain two metres (six and a half feet) or more away from anyone who does not live in your household.

Gatherings of more than two people, other than people who live in the same household, are also prohibited except as outlined above.

Resources for Northern Ireland

Coronavirus rules and guidance 
Staying home and self-isolation.

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'Clinically extremely vulnerable' patients

Some people are at particularly high risk from coronavirus. This means that if they become unwell, their illness will be particularly severe, and there is a higher chance that they might die.

This includes:

  • Solid organ transplant recipients
  • People with specific cancers:
    • people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer
    • people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
    • people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
    • people having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
    • people who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  • People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD
  • People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell)
  • People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection
  • Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.

The NHS has contacted these people individually, and they are strongly advised to 'shield' themselves for 12 weeks from when they receive the letter. This means avoiding all face-to-face contact, as far as is practically possible. 

As of June 1st, 'shielding' rules have been relaxed in England only. Clinically extremely vulnerable people may now spend time outdoors, provided they observe social distancing rules. These permit going outdoors with members of the same household. People who live alone may meet outdoors with one person from another household - ideally the same person each time. 

Full guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people.

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'Vulnerable' patients

Some people are considered 'vulnerable' but not in the 'highest risk' or 'clinically extremely vulnerable' group outlined above. If this includes you, you do not have to 'shield' yourself, but you are advised to follow social distancing rules carefully (see below).

This group includes people with the following characteristics or illnesses:

  • Aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
  • Under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (i.e. for adults this usually anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
    • chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive
    • pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
    • chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
    • chronic kidney disease
    • chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
    • chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
    • diabetes
    • problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
    • a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or  chemotherapy
    • being seriously overweight (a BMI of 40 or above)
    • those who are pregnant.

The distinction between ‘vulnerable’ and ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ patients is defined in English guidance, but the devolved nations have all issued guidance along very similar lines, and in some cases are using Public Health England’s definitions and guidance directly:

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If you need support

If you have received a letter saying that you are in the 'clinically extremely vulnerable' group described above, you can register to get help from volunteers while you are 'shielding' yourself. The NHS is arranging for volunteers to get food, medicine and other support to people. Register for this support by going to www.gov.uk/cornonavirus-extremely-vulnerable or calling 0800 028 8327.

Many local voluntary groups have been formed to help people who cannot leave their homes. To find out if there is one in your area, visit covidmutualaid.org. The service On Hand can also match people who need help with vetted volunteers.

There is also support available for all patients and members of the public. The NHS has created a new service via the messaging app WhatsApp. Enter the number 07860 064422 into your contacts, then message it the word 'hi' to get started. This is a 'chatbot' service that can provide you with information.  In Scotland, Ready Scotland offers services for both obtaining help and volunteering to help others. 

The NHS has also created a text message service for people with coronavirus symptoms. Daily texts will be sent by the NHS to new patients who register their COVID-19 symptoms and contact details with the 111 online service. The text messages will be sent as a reassurance to those who contact NHS 111 online, complete the assessment, and leave basic information such as their age, mobile number and when their symptoms started. People who don’t want to receive text messages will be able to opt out at any time.

If online information is not sufficient and you need to speak to someone, you can call NHS 111. Only do this if you cannot cope with your symptoms, or they are not getting better after seven days. 

You can of course also call the Patients Association helpline on 0800 3457115 for free information, advice and signposting, between 9:30am and 5pm, Monday to Friday, or email at any time.

If you want to offer support

See our article for ways in which you can offer support to people in your area.

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Last updated: 28th May, 15:30.