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Coronavirus: What are the social distancing rules?

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Social distancing is a key method of keeping people safe and preventing the spread of Covid-19.

It means keeping a certain distance away from other people to lessen the risk of passing on - or catching - coronavirus.

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What are the rules in each UK nation?

Each nation has slightly different advice:

  • In Scotland people should keep 2m away from each other. Shops are reintroducing measures to support 2m physical distancing, like one-way systems. There are exemptions in some places like pubs, and children aged 11 or under do not need to social distance
  • In England, if you can't stay 2m away, you can stay "1m plus" apart (the "plus" means doing something else to limit possible exposure, like wearing a face covering)
  • In Wales, the guidance is to stay 2m apart unless it is not practical (for instance, at a hairdresser's); primary-age children in Wales are also exempt
  • Northern Ireland's guidance was 1m (3ft) for a time, but is now back at 2m

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

How many people can I meet?

In all UK nations some areas have local restrictions. These may limit how many people you can meet.

In England, people living in areas placed under very high (Tier 3) Covid alert levels cannot mix with other households or support bubbles under most circumstances.

Households in areas under high alert (Tier 2) can only mix with others outdoors, in groups of six or fewer.

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In areas without local restrictions, the rules differ.

In England, up to six people of any age from multiple households can meet indoors and outdoors.

In Scotland, people are being told not to visit other households or other private indoor spaces. In public indoor spaces six people from two households can meet. The same rule applies in outdoor spaces, including private gardens.

Outdoors, children aged 11 or under will be exempt from the headcount. Those aged 12 to 18 are exempt from the two-household limit and allowed to meet together outdoors in groups of six.

In Wales, it is now illegal for more than six people to meet indoors - and any people who do meet must be from an extended household. Children aged 10 and under do not count towards the total. Up to 30 people from different homes can still meet outside.

However, 15 out of 22 Welsh counties are currently subject to tighter local restrictions.

Social mixing of households is no longer allowed inside private homes in Northern Ireland - although there are some exemptions.

Up to six people from two households can meet in private gardens. In other places, both inside and outside, up to 15 can gather with social distancing - but venues, such as pubs, must carry out risk assessments.

Are there any exceptions?

Exceptions to social distancing rules in England include:

  • A household or support bubble larger than six
  • Education and training
  • Workplaces
  • Jury duty or other legal commitments
  • Children's play groups and youth clubs
  • Support groups, such as for addiction or abuse

Weddings and civil partnerships, with up to 15 people attending in groups of six or less, and funerals, with up to 30, can go ahead. Wedding receptions are not permitted in areas with under very high alert, or in Northern Ireland from Monday 19 October.

If they obey restrictions in their area, people can go to pubs, restaurants, shops, places of worship, a protest or other organised event, in groups of six or less, even though more people will be present.

However, these groups must stay separate and not mingle.

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What are the rules for sports?

Organised outdoor team sport and exercise classes are exempt from the six-person limit if Covid-secure guidelines are followed.

Indoors they can take place if people can avoid mixing with people they don't live or have a support bubble with, or for youth and disability sport.

In Scotland's central belt region, a two-week suspension for all contact sports for people aged 18 or over, with an exception for professional sports, started on 10 October.

In Northern Ireland, all indoor sport and all organised contact sport involving household mixing is temporarily banned from 16 October, except for elite athletes. People can still visit the gym to train by themselves.

Can I be fined for breaking the rules?

Police can break up groups larger than six.

Group members can be fined for breaking the rules - £200 for a first offence, doubling on each further offence up to £6,400.

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