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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.

  • Check the rules where you live
  • How does England's three-tier system work?

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?

Different restrictions apply across the UK.

In England, people living in tier three (very high) Covid alert level areas cannot mix with other households or support bubbles under most circumstances.

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

Residents in tier one (medium) alert areas can meet in groups of six indoors or outdoors.

In all cases, social distancing guidelines must be followed.

Scotland is moving to a five-tier system of restrictions from Monday, with rules about meeting people different at each level.

Wales is currently in a national circuit-breaker lockdown, which means people are not allowed to mix with other households or meet people they do not live with. However, adults living alone or single parents can join with one other household for support anywhere in Wales.

People living in Northern Ireland are also currently under restrictions. Support bubbles are limited to a maximum of 10 people from two households.

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
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Can I be fined for breaking the rules?

People can be fined for breaking coronavirus regulations.

  • In England, it is £200 for a first offence, doubling on each further offence up to £6,400
  • In Scotland and Northern Ireland, fixed penalty notices start at £60 and double on repeat offences up to a maximum of £960
  • In Wales, fixed penalty notices start at £60 and can rise to £1,920

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