The government has advised everyone against social contact outside the home and strongly advised against it for people over 70 or those with underlying health conditions.
But what does that mean for a host of everyday activities? Here, we interpret the guidelines.
Travel and work
Everyone, even the young and healthy, should avoid non-essential public transport and try to avoid rush hour, varying their usual travel times to prevent crowding. This includes buses, trams, commuter trains and national rail services.
Many key workers will still need to use public transport, so it is best to keep at least 6.5ft (two metres) distance from the next person and stay well clear of anyone displaying coronavirus symptoms such as a high temperature and a continuous cough.
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has asked rail companies to keep as many services running as possible to provide space for passengers to comply with social distancing requirements, suggesting the Government is not expecting people to stop travelling entirely.
Walking outside is safer, but avoid touching railings, buttons at pedestrian crossings etc. If this is unavoidable, wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
There are no restrictions on travelling by car or bike or any other form of personal transport. However, people may want to reconsider car pooling or travelling with multiple passengers. The Government has advised Britons against travelling out of the UK for the next 30 days unless absolutely essential.
Everyone should now be working from home unless it is not feasible to do so. For example, goods drivers, delivery and transport workers and those working in the emergency services will still need to carry on their jobs. Face-to-face meetings should be replaced with video calls.
Shopping, going out and religion
The Department of Health has said people living in London are at most risk and those living in the regions should exercise their “personal judgment” when it comes to dining out, keeping appointments or attending small-scale events.
Many pubs and restaurants are still open, and the risk is likely to be low if they are quiet and if healthy people keep a safe distance and practice good hygiene. The same is likely to apply to visiting the hairdresser, but cutting down on social mixing will undoubtedly prevent spread, so keeping grooming appointments and social excursions such as restaurant meals to a minimum is essential. Some experts have suggested swapping an afternoon at the pub for a walk outside or a quiet picnic as the weather warms.
Larger-scale public spaces such as theatres, clubs, cinemas, galleries and museums are closing their doors, so it is unlikely that people will need to make a judgment on visiting. The Prime Minister has said mass gatherings would no longer be supported by emergency workers.
Takeaway food should be a safe option, particularly if delivered, as long as restaurants practice good hygiene. Visiting shops for anything other than essential items is best avoided in the near future.
Many places of worship are continuing services, which may prove an important source of comfort in a time of crisis. But people should consider whether they really need to attend, and a good distance away from other members of the congregation.
The Church of England has announced that public worship is suspended until further notice. However, church buildings will remain open for prayer “where practical” and as long as worshippers observe social distancing recommendations.
Keeping fit and healthy is essential during a health crisis, so people should still try to get out and about but stay away from crowded areas. A walk on the beach, a run in the park or a stroll through the countryside is preferable to a city centre, but keeping apart from other people is the main goal.
Older people, especially, are advised to make sure they still get fresh air, perhaps by getting into the garden. The National Trust has said it will be opening many of its gardens and parks for free “so the nation can use open spaces to relax and refresh” while following social distancing guidance.
Walking dogs in quiet areas is unlikely to spread the virus. Robert Dingwall, a professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University and a government adviser on the social dynamics of infectious disease outbreaks, urged common sense, saying: “If you have a dog, take it out for walks – but don’t stop to hang out with other dog walkers. If you usually walk down to the local convenience store, keep doing that – just pick a quiet time to do it.”
However people should avoid visiting the shops, even to get essentials, if they or a member of their household displays symptoms of coronavirus.
It is important to take extra care when out and about, regarding every surface as being contaminated and avoiding touching gates, fences and railings. Even if you feel healthy, you may be infected so clean your hands regularly to avoid infecting others. If you meet people when out and about, try to keep a distance of two metres.
Older people should try to remain active and strong, as six out of 10 falls happen at home. Health experts are recommending that people carry out strength-building exercises if they are unable or unwilling to leave the house.
Professor Sir Muir Gray, an expert in healthy ageing at Oxford University said: “Being active can have a significant impact on preventing dementia and frailty.”
Team sports such as football, or large organised runs or marathons ,should be avoided, along with visiting a busy gym or crowded exercise class. If you must use communal equipment, wash your hands before and after and wipe down machines after use. The same applies when visiting a cash machine or using chip and pin machines.
Outdoor activities involving small numbers of people, such as golf or tennis, are unlikely to spread the virus if good hygiene is practiced. Visiting a personal trainer or attending private lessons is also unlikely to be problematic if both parties are healthy and maintaining regular hand-washing. Many exercise studios and gyms have started releasing online classes so people can stay active while socially distancing.
Visiting friends and relatives
The new guidance suggests avoiding gatherings with friends and family and instead contacting people by phone, or on the internet or social media. Older people have been advised to avoid Sunday lunch with their children and grandchildren until further notice.
However the guidelines say social distancing should be done “as much as is pragmatic” and for a host of regions it may not be sensible or practicable to avoid contact with others.
People providing essential care for others, such as helping with washing, dressing or preparing meals, should carry on as usual but take extra care with hygiene.
Greater care should be taken to avoid visiting the over-70s and those with health conditions, but popping in to see a healthy friend or relative is unlikely to cause the virus to spread if both are practicing good hand-washing. If you do visit friends or relatives, avoid physical contact with others in social situations, including handshakes, hugs and kisses.
Older people in care homes should try to avoid visitors as much as possible until the spread begins to die down.
The chief medical officer for Scotland, Dr Catherine Calderwood, has suggested that older people should reduce their social contact by 75 per cent rather than shunning visitors completely.
Studies on isolation during the Sars outbreak showed that increased levels of anger, anxiety and alcohol abuse were common side effects of long-term self isolation. Jeremy Farrar, the head of the Wellcome Trust, said it was more important that ever to maintain social interactions and communication, adding: “We need personal physical distance, yes, but socially [to be] closer than ever.”
Many people will have dental or doctor’s appointments in the coming weeks, and the government is asking people to talk to their GP or clinician to discuss whether to come in or postpone them.
Visiting a GPs surgery should pose no problems for people showing no symptoms of coronavirus, but it is better to seek advice online in the first instance and Boris Jounson has said people should avoid unnecessary visits to the NHS.
Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “If you have chronic lymphatic leukaemia and have to go to hospital once a month for treatment and you stopped going, your leukaemia would worsen and your life would be shortened.
“But there are lots of other routine visits that aren’t as important, so you have to balance the risk. I think a lot of these will be cancelled anyway when we move to the main peak of the outbreak.”