Coronavirus (COVID-19): Physical distancing

Physical distancing measures are things you should do to reduce how often you interact with others outside your household. This will stop coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading.

Remember:

  • physical distancing is still essential for everyone except children under 12 and people in the same household or extended household
  • maintain good hand and respiratory hygiene
  • face coverings must be worn if you use public transport, use school transport (children aged 5 and over), visit a care home/hospital, or go to a shop, library, museum, bank or church

From Tuesday 5 January, mainland Scotland will move to a temporary lockdown, with new guidance to stay at home except for essential purposes. Some islands will stay at level (tier) 3.

The information on this page applies to areas in lockdown.

If you live in a level 3 area, read the Scottish Government’s advice on what you can and cannot do

Physical distancing guidelines

Do:

  • stay at home except for essential purposes
  • stay 2 metres (6 feet) away from other people outside your household or extended household at all times
  • only meet up outdoors with one other household (no more than 2 people in total at a time) – children under 12 don’t count towards the 2 person limit
  • limit the total number of other households you meet in a day
  • only go into someone else’s home to access the garden or use the toilet
  • travel by foot, bike or car if you can
  • change your travel times to avoid rush hour
  • wash your hands with soap and water (or hand sanitiser) when you return home after going out
  • work from home if you can – your employer should support you to do this
  • use phone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services

Do not:

  • meet indoors with people from other households unless you have formed an extended household or provide care and support – for example caring for an elderly family member or delivering shopping
  • meet anyone with coronavirus symptoms (new continuous cough, fever or loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste (anosmia))
  • have large public gatherings with friends and family – keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media

If parents don’t live together, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes as long as no-one in either household has symptoms.

Read the Scottish Government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19): stay at home guidance

Coronavirus vaccine

The first coronavirus vaccines are becoming available now and vaccinations for the most at risk groups have begun. Going to get the coronavirus vaccine is an important medical reason for leaving your home.

After you get the vaccine you will still need to follow the latest government advice on physical distancing. So in the meantime, and possibly for some time to come, it’s still important to follow physical distancing measures.

Leaving home

To minimise the risk of spreading the virus, you must stay at home as much as possible. 

You can only leave your home for essential purposes including:

  • work
  • essential shopping
  • healthcare, including coronavirus testing and vaccination
  • to provide care for a vulnerable person
  • exercise

Read the Scottish Government’s full list of reasonable excuses to leave your home

Before leaving your home, plan how you’ll stay safe and minimise the risk of spreading the virus.

Consider:

  • whether and how you’ll avoid touching surfaces that others have touched
  • how you’ll practise good hygiene
  • where physical distancing might be more difficult to follow, and how you’ll avoid or reduce the risk
  • what additional things you may need to take with you, such as hand sanitiser, a bag for used tissues and a face covering

Remember that some people for example those with sight loss, autism, learning disabilities, dementia or other communication or mobility needs might find physical distancing rules more difficult to follow than others. Please be considerate by giving way when you’re out and about.

Hospital and GP appointments

You should access medical assistance remotely (not face-to-face), wherever possible.

If you have a scheduled hospital or medical appointment, talk to your GP or clinician to ensure you continue to receive the care you need. Consider whether appointments can be postponed.

Generally, you should go to hospital and GP appointments on your own. In some circumstances you can bring someone else with you. These circumstances include if you:

  • find it difficult understanding what treatment or action your doctor is discussing
  • have dementia, a learning disability or autism
  • are potentially receiving life-changing information
  • are potentially receiving a cancer diagnosis
  • are discussing cancer treatment options
  • are pregnant – for example for an obstetric ultrasound
  • are distressed or stressed

There may be some occasions when you can have more than one other person with you at a hospital or GP appointment. For example, a translator and someone who gives you mobility support.

You may be able to have someone with you virtually during your appointment if they can’t attend in person. This could be through an electronic platform or by phone.

Visiting hospitals

Where possible, any visitors to hospitals should observe physical distancing.

Read the latest Scottish Government guidance on hospital visiting

Visiting care homes

The Scottish Government has published guidance on visits to care homes.

Read guidance on safely visiting care homes

Hand washing and respiratory hygiene

To reduce the risk of catching and spreading the virus:

  • wash your hands more often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitiser
  • wash your hands when you get home or into work, when you blow your nose, sneeze or 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 mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, throw the tissue in a bin and wash your hands
  • clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in your home

Face coverings

You must wear a face covering:

  • in all shops and supermarkets
  • on public transport
  • in public transport premises such as railway and bus stations and airports (this applies to open air train stations but not to bus stops)
  • in a car with someone from another household
  • on school transport (children aged 5 and over)
  • in libraries
  • in museums
  • in banks/post offices
  • in places of worship

A face covering can be any covering for your mouth and nose that’s made of cloth or other textiles, and that you can breathe through. Religious face coverings that cover the mouth and the nose count as face coverings for these purposes. If a face shield is worn, another face covering must be worn underneath.

When applying or removing the covering, it’s important you wash your hands first and avoid touching your face. After each use, you should wash the face covering at 60 °C or dispose of it safely.

For a list of face covering exemptions, and to request an exemption card, visit Face Covering Exemption Card Scotland

Meeting other households outdoors

You can meet one other household outdoors at a time as long as there are no more than 2 people in total. You must follow physical distancing and stay 2 metres apart.

Children under 12 do not count towards the 2 person limit and they do not need to maintain physical distance from others.

When meeting another household:

  • follow our advice on physical distancing and hygiene, and wash your hands as soon as you get home
  • avoid touching hard surfaces such as gates, walls, fences and park benches with your hands 
  • take hand sanitiser with you and use it often, especially before eating or after touching surfaces
  • bring your own food, plates and cutlery if you’re eating together
  • don't go indoors unless it’s to access the garden or use the toilet

You’re still not able to have larger public gatherings of friends and family.

You should strictly follow physical distancing advice if you are:

  • pregnant
  • at a higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus (including people over 70, and people with an underlying medical condition)

Meeting other households indoors

You should not meet indoors with people from other households unless you have formed an extended household or provide care and support – for example caring for an elderly family member or delivering shopping.

Extended households

You may form an extended household with one other household if:

  • you’re in a couple but do not live together
  • you live alone
  • the only people you live with are under 18

Everyone in an extended household can act, and will be treated, as if they are one household.

Read more about meeting others and forming an extended household

Children and young people

Children under 12 don't need to maintain physical distancing and don’t count towards the limit of 2 people from 2 households who can meet outdoors. 

Exercise, sport and leisure

You may meet outdoors with one other household (maximum of 2 people in total at a time) for exercise or activity.

When taking part in activity outside, avoid:

  • touching surfaces with your hands
  • sharing equipment
  • touching your mouth and face

Use good hygiene and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

Travel

By law, you can only leave your home (or garden) if you have a reasonable excuse.

You should only travel if you’re not showing coronavirus symptoms and no-one in your household is self-isolating.

People who’re in the higher risk category should carefully consider how to rigorously follow physical distancing when travelling.

Read the Scottish Government’s list of essential purposes for leaving your home

Travelling for leisure

Travel by foot, bike or car if you can.

Read the Scottish Government’s guidance on travelling and transport

Travelling to work

If you’re travelling to work on public transport you should:

  • wear a face covering
  • stay 2 metres apart whenever possible
  • avoid busier times of travel to ensure you can follow physical distancing
  • maintain good hand and respiratory hygiene

Car-sharing

Car sharing with people outside your household or extended household should only happen if there’s no alternative.

If you need to share a private vehicle with people from other households for an essential journey:

  • limit the number of passengers
  • wear a face covering
  • wash your hands before and after
  • catch coughs and sneezes in tissues or cover your mouth and nose with your sleeve or elbow (not your hands), put the tissues in a bin and wash hands immediately
  • follow physical distancing as much as possible
  • clean vehicles between different drivers or passengers

Schools and childcare

Read the Scottish Government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19): school re-opening arrangements for January 2021

Workers and business owners

You should continue to work from home if you can. If you can’t work from home, your employer is encouraged to stagger start times and allow flexible working.

Read the Scottish Government’s:

If you are on the shielding list and cannot work from home, you should not go to work.

Health and social care

Primary and community-based NHS services, including mental health, have reopened and:

  • COVID-free GP services will be retained and digital consultations will increase
  • the NHS Pharmacy First Scotland service is available in community pharmacies
  • emergency dental hubs will provide more cover as dental practices reopen
  • urgent planned surgery which was previously paused has restarted
  • more emergency eyecare will be provided in the community

Looking after your wellbeing

You may find your mood and feelings are affected by physical distancing. You may feel bored, frustrated low or worried and have problems sleeping. It’s important to stay mentally and physically active during this time.

Read further advice on your mental wellbeing

Carers and those being cared for

People who provide essential care and support – for example for an elderly family member – can continue to do so.

You can get respite and day care if you are an unpaid carer or have a disabled family member as long as you follow physical distancing and hygiene measures.

Home care

Only people providing essential care should be allowed to visit your home. Essential care includes washing, dressing or preparing meals.

If you receive regular health or social care from an organisation, either through your local authority or paid for by yourself, make sure they know you have a condition that makes you more vulnerable to severe illness with coronavirus. This will help you agree a plan for continuing your care.

Informal carers

If you receive essential care from friends or family members, these carers can continue to visit.

If you’re caring for someone who’s vulnerable, there are some simple steps that you can take to protect them, including:

  • washing your hands on arrival and often – use soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser
  • covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • putting used tissues in the bin immediately and washing your hands
  • providing information on who they should call if they feel unwell (their GP phone number and 111) and how to use NHS inform
  • accessing advice on creating a contingency plan from Carers UK
  • finding out about different sources of support that could be used
  • looking after your own wellbeing and physical health

Don’t visit if you’re unwell. Make alternative arrangements for their care. If carers and family and friends are unable to provide essential care for someone, they should contact their local social work department.

You can find more guidance for unpaid carers through the Scottish Government.

Making an emergency plan

Carers who do not already have an emergency plan should speak with family and friends to find out who could take over their caring role if they become ill or need to self-isolate. This is especially important while social work services are under additional pressure during the coronavirus outbreak. Your local carers’ centre may be able to help you to develop an emergency plan over the phone or online.

Make sure you have key information about the person you care for easily available. This will help anyone taking over their care.

Accessing PPE

The Scottish Government has published information for social care providers, personal assistants, and unpaid carers on how to access personal protective equipment (PPE)

Higher risk of severe illness

People who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus should strictly follow physical distancing measures.

Their household and other contacts should also strictly follow physical distancing advice. 

Higher-risk group

This group includes people who are:

And those with: 

  • 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 their spleen, for example sickle cell disease
  • a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
  • a BMI of 40 or above who are seriously overweight

Extremely high risk of severe illness

Some groups of people are considered to be at extremely high risk of severe illness with coronavirus and should rigorously follow physical distancing and hygiene measures.

Their household and other contacts should strictly follow physical distancing measures to protect them.

Extremely high-risk group

This group includes people with: 

  • cancer who are receiving active chemotherapy 
  • lung cancer who are either receiving or previously received radical radiotherapy 
  • cancers of the blood or bone marrow, such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment 
  • severe chest conditions such as cystic fibrosis, severe asthma, severe COPD, severe bronchiectasis and pulmonary hypertension 
  • rare diseases, including all forms of interstitial lung disease/sarcoidosis, and inborn errors of metabolism (such as SCID and homozygous sickle cell) that significantly increase the risk of infections  
  • an absent spleen or have had their spleen removed
  • significant heart disease (congenital or acquired) and are pregnant
  • Down’s syndrome (adults)
  • stage 5 kidney disease

And those that have had:

  • solid organ transplants
  • bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs

Or receiving:

  • immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer 
  • other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors 
  • immunosuppression therapies that significantly increase the risk of infection
  • renal dialysis treatment

Living with a vulnerable person

If you live in a house with a vulnerable person, the whole household must be very strict about:

  • adhering to physical distancing advice
  • minimising the number of people leaving the house for essential purposes

Helpline for vulnerable people

A helpline (0800 111 4000) has been setup for those at increased risk who don’t have a support network, such as family or existing community support.

You can use this service if you:

  • can’t get online
  • are over 70 years old
  • have a disability
  • receive mental health support
  • are pregnant
  • receive a flu jab for health reasons

Callers will be connected to their local authority who will help them access the services they need, including:

  • essential food and medication
  • links to local social work services for vulnerable children or adults
  • emotional support
  • contact with local volunteer groups

The helpline is open from 9.00am to 5.00pm, Monday to Friday.

Further information