What are the new lockdown rules on social distancing?

15 July 2020

The government has updated the law and guidance about what people in England are allowed to do during the Covid-19 lockdown. We’ve been asked by readers to explain the new rules around social distancing and shielding. 

This article has been updated to reflect recent changes to advice.

This only applies to people living in England. Additional guidance is available to people living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If you are living in an area with local lockdown restrictions, you should follow that guidance.

When leaving your home, you should follow government guidance on staying safe outside your home. Where possible, you should remain two metres away from others. Where this is not possible, the government says “1m with risk mitigation (where 2m is not viable) [is] acceptable”.

It is important to remember that if you, other members of your household, or your support bubble, have symptoms of the new coronavirus, you should not leave your house unless absolutely necessary, until your period of self-isolation is over. You should also remain at home if you are told to self-isolate by the NHS test and trace service.

You should use a tissue when sneezing and dispose of it safely, cough into the crook of your elbow and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser if washing facilities are not easily available.

It is compulsory to wear face coverings on all public transport, including buses, coaches, trains, trams, ferries and aircraft. Wearing face coverings in shops and supermarkets is due to become compulsory from 24 July.

Meeting other people 

The government guidance says that you can meet in groups of up to two households in any location, whether indoors or outdoors. If more than two households wish to meet, they must do so outside and the group must be no larger than six people. You do not always have to meet with people from the same household, but you should try to socially distance from anyone not in your household. 

Where possible you should access private gardens externally (i.e. not going through someone’s house to get to the garden) and avoid using toilets, paddling or swimming pools or other garden equipment (such as deck chairs or sports equipment) in other people’s homes, outside of your support bubble. The government recommends using disinfectant to wipe down surfaces or door handles that people outside of your household come into contact with and says you should avoid sharing plates and utensils with people outside of your household or bubble.

Adults who live alone, or with children under the age of 18 but no other adult, can form a ‘support bubble’ with one other household. People within this bubble will be counted as one household and permitted to spend time together inside and outside each others’ homes,  including overnight stays, without needing to stay two metres apart. One of the households must be a single adult household, and you should not change or add to your support bubble once it is formed.

If anyone within your support bubble has coronavirus symptoms, you must all remain at home. As this guidance just applies to England you cannot travel to any other part of the UK to form a support bubble.

You can stay overnight away from home with your household or support bubble, or with members of one other household (where you should continue social distancing). 

While the guidance states limits on how many people can meet as detailed above, the law stipulates that it is illegal for more than 30 people to gather in private homes, including gardens, or outdoor spaces.

There are various exemptions. It's legal for more than 30 people to gather in a public outdoor place if it is operated by a business, charity, or public body as a visitor attraction. It's also legal to gather in groups of more than 30 for elite sports reasons, for work purposes, for the purposes of education. There are various other exemptions outlined in law. The guidance says you should not hold or attend celebrations of any size where maintaining social distancing is difficult.


The government changed its advice for people who are shielding on 6 July. Clinically extremely vulnerable people do not need to socially distance from the people they live with and, if they want to, can meet in a group of up to six people outdoors including people from other households. They can also form support bubbles. You should take care to minimise contact with others not in your household or support bubble, and avoid going into enclosed spaces and other shops, buildings and households.

However, the advice also says that people who are shielding (also known as being clinically extremely vulnerable) are “strongly advised” to stay at home as much as possible and keep interactions outside to a minimum. The government is currently advising people to shield until 31 July.

You should continue to follow social distancing guidelines such as keeping two metres away from people you do not live with. If you have Covid-19 symptoms, no matter how mild, you should not meet with an extremely vulnerable person.

The government intends to “pause” shielding from 1 August, unless there is a rise in transmission of Covid-19 in the community. This means you will no longer be advised to shield, and will no longer receive free food parcels or medicine deliveries. However, you will be eligible for priority supermarket slots (if you have registered by 17 July) and help from NHS Volunteer Responders. 

From 1 August, people who are shielding will be able to return to the workplace, but should carry on working from home if they can, and children will be able to go back to school when term starts.

Going outside 

Since 13 May, people in England have been allowed to spend time outside for recreation as well as exercise, as long as they maintain social distancing. 

You can visit gardens, nature reserves and parklands, and can drive to beaches and beauty spots irrespective of distance. However, you should still not share a private vehicle with anyone you do not live with or who is not in your support bubble. 

Before travelling, you should ensure that attractions are open for visitors. If you are travelling to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you must ensure you are following the rules for that country. 

Some outdoor attractions, like drive-in cinemas, safari parks and zoos, were permitted to open in June. From 11 July, outdoor swimming pools and water parks can reopen, and outdoor performances in front of a live audience can take place.

Outdoor playgrounds can reopen, but anyone using them should take particular care to wash their hands after use and avoid touching their face. Children should not use playgrounds if they have any signs or symptoms of Covid-19.

You can now stay overnight away from your home, including staying in a second home, hotel, bed and breakfast or campsite. You should only stay away in groups of up to two households and maintain social distancing with anyone you do not live with. Make sure you continue to wash hands and surfaces, and avoid using shared facilities like bathrooms where possible. If you are abroad, you must follow the rules of the country you are in.

You should avoid public transport if possible, but if you have to use public transport, the government has released safer travel guidance for passengers. From 15 June, anyone using public transport has had to wear a face covering.

The government recommends that you wash your hands as soon as you are back indoors, keep at least two metres apart from anyone outside of your household at all times and take hand sanitiser with you when you travel. 


You can exercise as often as you wish. Some sporting facilities like tennis courts, basketball courts and golf courses re-opened from 13 May. New guidance says you can take part in sporting activities including fishing in groups of up to six people, or with two  households, as long as you follow social distancing guidelines. Indoor facilities like changing rooms should stay closed, but toilets can open. 

Where possible, you should limit your sharing of sports equipment such as using your own tennis racquet, golf club or basketball. If you are sharing equipment, you should wash your hands thoroughly before and after use.

Outdoor gyms, swimming pools and playgrounds can now reopen. The government plans to open indoor gyms, swimming pools, water parks and leisure facilities from 25 July.

You can swim in lakes or the sea and take part in water sports like sailing, surfing and rowing. You can take your children with you to exercise, but you are responsible for ensuring they maintain social distancing.

Personal training or coaching is permitted, as long as it is outside and people follow social distancing guidelines and the person limits on outdoor gatherings.

You can participate in team sports where the sports governing body has issued guidance on how to do so safely, and in some cases this allows gatherings of up to 30 people. There is separate guidance for elite athletes

Bars and restaurants in sporting venues can now reopen.


During the lockdown, many schools have remained open to teach vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.

Primary schools are now open for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils, while secondary schools and colleges are expected to provide some face-to-face support for Year 10 and Year 12 pupils. Early years childcare should also have reopened. School places for all year groups are still available for the children of key workers.

The government plans for all pupils to be back in school by September and has published further guidance on this.


Shops and non-essential retail are now allowed to open if they meet the Covid-19 secure guidelines. You should only go to the shops with people you live with or people who are within your support bubble, and you should maintain social distancing from other people at all times.

Pubs, restaurants and hairdressers can now reopen. From 13 July, close contact services like nail bars, salons, tanning booths, spas, massage parlours, tattoo parlours and body piercing studios can open, but should avoid work directly in front of the customer’s face. 

Libraries, community centres, museums and galleries, bingo halls, funfairs and indoor and outdoor attractions have already reopened.

Currently, some businesses are still required by law to stay closed to the public, including  nightclubs, casinos, bowling alleys, conference centres and “sexual entertainment venues”. 


You should still work from home if you can. Workers who cannot work from home are expected to go to work, avoiding public transport if possible. If you have to use public transport, the government has released safer travel guidance for passengers. 

The government expects sectors such as food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research to be open. Workplaces should be set up to meet the Covid-19 secure guidelines “as soon as practicable”, and try to ensure employees can maintain a “one metre plus” distance from others and wash their hands regularly.

Work in other people’s homes, such as repairs and maintenance and cleaning, can be carried out. If a household is isolating because of Covid-19 or includes a vulnerable person who is being shielded, work should only be carried out if there is a direct risk to the safety of a household, such as emergency plumbing or repairs. 

No one should be going to their place of work if they have coronavirus symptoms, no matter how mild.

Moving house 

Anyone is allowed to move house as long as guidance on social distancing and hygiene measures is followed. This applies to both buyers and renters.

Weddings, funerals and worship 

Weddings and civil partnerships can now take place. Social distancing should be enforced - at two metres if possible but one metre with risk mitigation is permitted - and ceremonies should be concluded as quickly as possible. There should be no large wedding receptions or parties, and no food or drink consumed as part of the event (unless required as part of the ceremony). 

Hands should be washed before and after the exchanging of rings, and people should avoid singing, shouting, raising voices or playing music at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult. If singing is required for the ceremony, only one individual should do so and the use of plexi-glass screens should be considered to protect guests, although professional singing outdoors will be considered in some circumstances. You are advised to only play musical instruments that are not blown into. Any washing or ablution rituals should be carried out prior to arrival at the venue, and prayer books, service sheets and prayer mats should be removed from use.

For weddings, funerals and religious ceremonies, gatherings of more than 30 people are allowed as long as the venues comply with the law. However, it is strongly advised that numbers are restricted to 30.

Guidance on funerals has also changed. Friends are now permitted to join family members at funerals, as long as the numbers attending remain “modest” to allow for social distancing. Overnight stays are permitted. 

Mourners coming to England from countries who would normally be required to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival are allowed to leave their place of isolation to attend the funeral of a family member. 

Places of worship can open for services and communal prayer. You can pray independently or join a religious ceremony, but it is advised to maintain social distancing and limit contact with others outside of your household. 

Update 11 June 2020

This article was updated to reflect changes in government guidance and remove a section relating to previous coronavirus laws.

Update 15 July 2020

This article was updated to reflect changes in government guidance.

Correction 24 July 2020

This piece has been updated to clarify the distinction between the law and the guidance on gatherings.

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