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Covid-19 Updates – Meeting with others safely (social distancing)

This is guidance that applies to England only. If you live in an area where local restrictions are in place you should also consult the local restrictions guidance, for information about what you can and can’t do to manage the outbreak.

It is critical that everybody observes the following key behaviours:

  • HANDS – Wash your hands regularly and for 20 seconds.
  • FACE – Wear a face covering in indoor settings where social distancing may be difficult, and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet.
  • SPACE – Stay 2 metres apart from people you do not live with where possible, or 1 metre with extra precautions in place (such as wearing face coverings or increasing ventilation indoors).

1. Social distancing

To reduce the risk of catching or spreading coronavirus, try to keep at least 2 metres away from people you do not live with. Social distancing is essential to stop the spread of the virus, as it is more likely to spread when people are close together. An infected person can pass on the virus even if they do not have any symptoms, through talking, breathing, coughing or sneezing.

When with people you do not live with, you should also avoid: physical contact; being close and face-to-face; and shouting or singing close to them. You should also avoid crowded areas with lots of people; and touching things that other people have touched.

Where you cannot stay 2 metres apart you should stay more than 1 metre apart, as well as taking extra steps to stay safe. For example:

  • wear a face covering: on public transport and in many indoor spaces, you must wear a face covering by law, unless you are exempt
  • move outdoors, where it is safer and there is more space
  • if indoors, make sure rooms are well ventilated by keeping windows and doors open

You do not need to socially distance from anyone in your household, meaning the people you live with. You also do not need to socially distance from someone you’re in an established relationship with, or anyone in your legally-permitted support bubble if you are in one.

It may not always be possible or practicable to maintain social distancing when providing care to a young child, or person with a disability or health condition. You should still limit close contact as much as possible when providing these types of care, and take other precautions such as washing hands and opening windows for ventilation.

2. Seeing friends and family

When seeing friends and family you do not live with you should:

  • meet in groups of 6 or less
  • follow social distancing rules
  • limit how many different people you see socially over a short period of time
  • meet people outdoors where practical: meeting people outdoors is safer than meeting people indoors because fresh air provides better ventilation

Limits on the number of people you can see socially have changed. From Monday 14 September, when meeting friends and family you do not live with (or have formed a support bubble with) you must not meet in a group of more than 6, indoors or outdoors. This is against the law and the police will have the powers to enforce these legal limits, including to issue fines (fixed penalty notices) of £100, doubling for further breaches up to a maximum of £3,200.

There are exceptions where groups can be larger than 6 people. These include:

  • for work, or the provision of voluntary or charitable services
  • registered childcare, education or training
  • supervised activities provided for children, including wraparound care, youth groups and activities, and children’s playgroups
  • providing support to a vulnerable person
  • providing emergency assistance, and to avoid injury or illness or to escape risk of harm
  • to continue existing arrangements where children do not live in the same household as both their parents
  • fulfilling a legal obligation, such as attending court or jury service
  • elite sporting competition and training
  • wedding and civil partnership ceremonies and receptions – up to 30 people, in a public place
  • funerals – up to 30 people. This does not include wakes, other than for religious ceremonial purposes
  • other religious and belief-based life cycle ceremonies – up to 30 people, in a public place. This only covers the ceremonies, and does not include celebrations of these events
  • organised sport or exercises classes or licensed outdoor physical activity. This does not include informal sport or fitness activity with family or friends – this must be limited to a group of 6
  • support groups – formally organised groups to provide mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support. This includes support to victims of crime, recovering addicts, new parents, people with long-term illnesses, those facing issues relating to their sexuality or gender, and those who have suffered bereavement.
  • protests – if organised in compliance with COVID-19 Secure guidance

Where a group includes someone covered by such an exception (for example, someone who is working), they are not counted as part of the gatherings limit. This means – for example – a tradesperson can go into a household of six without breaching the limit, if they are there for work.

More information can be found on our Frequently Asked Questions page.

3. Rules in other venues and activities

As well as the exemptions above, venues following COVID-19 secure guidelines will be able to continue to host more people in total – such as religious services in places of worship – but no one should mix in a group of greater than 6. This includes places like a pub, shop, leisure venue, restaurant or place of worship. When you visit one of these places you should:

  • follow the limits on the number of other people you should meet with as a group – no more than six people unless you all live together (or are in the same support bubble)
  • avoid social interaction with anyone outside the group you are with, even if you see other people you know
  • provide your contact details to the organiser so that you can be contacted if needed by the NHS Test and Trace programme
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