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Life In London

Social distancing: Stay alert, control the virus, save lives

By Adrian 18 May 2020


Social distancing practices are changes in behaviour that can help stop the spread of infections. These often include curtailing social contact, work and schooling among seemingly healthy individuals, with a view to delaying transmission and reducing the size of an outbreak.
Read more at New Scientist.

The UK government has issued instructions that you should stay home unless necessary to go out for specific reasons set out in law. These include:

  1. for work, where you cannot work from home;
  2. going to shops that are permitted to be open – to get things like food and medicine, and to collect goods ordered online or on the phone;
  3. to exercise or spend time outdoors for recreation;
  4. any medical need, to donate blood, avoid injury or illness, escape risk of harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.



You can exercise outside as often as you wish and you can also sit and rest outside – exercise or recreation can be alone, with members of your household, or with one other person from outside your household, while keeping two metres apart at all times.

It is still not permitted to leave your house to visit friends and family in their home. The government is looking at how to facilitate greater contact with close family or friends, and will explain how this can be done safely in the coming weeks.

These measures must be followed by everyone. Separate advice is available for individuals or households who are isolating, and for the most vulnerable who need to be shielded.

By following this guidance, you are helping to protect yourself, your family, the NHS and your community.



What you can and can't do

The government has published an FAQs page to help people understand what activities are / are not allowed under the social distancing regulations.

There is also further advice available about how to stay safe outside your home. 

These rules are mandatory

If you leave your home or gather in public for any reason other than those specified, the police may:

  • instruct you to go home, leave an area or disperse
  • instruct you to take steps to stop your children breaking these rules if they have already done so
  • take you home – or arrest you – if you do not follow their instructions or where they deem it necessary
  • issue a fine (fixed penalty notice)



Individuals who do not pay their fine could be taken to court, with magistrates able to impose unlimited fines.

Why is social distancing important?

  1. Social distancing measures can help reduce and slow the spread of coronavirus.
  2. For most people, COVID-19 is a mild illness; but for some people in high-risk groups (the elderly, and anyone with an underlying health condition like heart disease or lung disease), there can be up to a 15% chance of dying from the infection.
  3. Not everyone who has coronavirus has symptoms, but they are still infectious and can pass on the disease to other people. So you might feel completely well, but still be capable of transmitting coronavirus to a high-risk person if you are out in public places; and that could kill them.
  4. About 20% of people with COVID-19 require admission to hospital. If a large number of people are infected at the same time, the NHS won't be able to cope - and this could lead to avoidable deaths.

All of this means that YOU have the power to save lives in our community by following the government's advice to reduce contact with other people.

What else can you do to protect yourself and prevent the spread of coronavirus?

You can reduce your chances of being infected or spreading COVID-19 by taking some simple precautions:

  • Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.
  • Maintain at least 2 metres distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Why? When someone coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.
  • Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately. Why? Droplets spread virus. By following good respiratory hygiene you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19.
  • Stay home if you feel unwell. See our article about self-isolation for more information about this.

Looking after your mental wellbeing

(Also see our article, Coping with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak.)

Understandably, you may find that social distancing can be boring or frustrating. You may find your mood and feelings are affected and you may feel low, worried or have problems sleeping and you might miss being outside with other people.

At times like these, it can be easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of behaviour which in turn can make you feel worse. There are simple things you can do that may help, to stay mentally and physically active during this time such as:

  • look for ideas of exercises you can do at home on the NHS website
  • spend time doing things you enjoy – this might include reading, cooking, other indoor hobbies or listening to the radio or watching TV programmes
  • try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, drink enough water and try to avoid smoking, alcohol and drugs
  • keep your windows open to let in fresh air, get some natural sunlight if you can, or get outside into the garden

You can also go for a walk or exercise outdoors if you stay more than 2 metres from others.

What steps can you take to stay connected with family and friends during this time?

Draw on support you might have through your friends, family and other networks during this time. Try to stay in touch with those around you over the phone, by post, or online. Let people know how you would like to stay in touch and build that into your routine. This is also important in looking after your mental wellbeing and you may find it helpful to talk to them about how you are feeling.

Remember it is OK to share your concerns with others you trust and in doing so you may end up providing support to them too. Or you can use an NHS recommended helpline.

Adrian profile picture

Adrian is a medical doctor, the University of London Student Health & Wellbeing Manager, and the Warden of Connaught Hall. He is passionate about advancing equality, diversity, and inclusion. Adrian's interests include fitness, nutrition, mindfulness and insight meditation, medical education, social psychology, and human factors / crisis resource management.
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