What is social distancing, and how can you do it properly?

As we all know by now, in order to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, health officials and leaders around the world have instructed the public to start practicing social distancing. At its most basic level, this means to stay home whenever possible

That said, this is a new term, and not everyone knows exactly what it means. So, what does it mean to practice social distancing? Can you go out for groceries? Can you order a takeaway? Is it ok to go for a walk?

We answer your questions below.

What is social distancing?

You need to stay home whenever possible. Only leave your home to buy groceries, get exercise (safely – see below), walk your dog, or go to work if you are classified as an essential worker. Do not visit with friends or have anyone enter your home.

Here is the official UK guidance on social distancing.

Social distancing is different than self-isolation. If you or anyone in your home has displayed symptoms, you must remain indoors and not come into contact with outsiders for 14 days. If you live alone, the time period of self-isolation is 7 days from the start of the symptoms.

Can I go out to get groceries?

Yes, you can still go out to buy groceries if you need to restock. Do not stockpile or buy more than you need for the week. Go early in the morning or late in the evening, and find out if you qualify for special shopping hours for the elderly, vulnerable, or NHS staff.

Give others a wide berth of more than 6 feet (2 metres), sanitise trolley handles, and use hand sanitiser often. Avoid touching products that you do not intent to buy. When queuing, leave at least 6 feet (2 metres) between you and the person ahead and behind. If possible, order your groceries online and have them delivered.

Do I need to sanitise my groceries when I get home?

Yes. Wipe down your tins, boxes, and packaging with a mixture of 20 mL bleach to 1L of water. Wash your hands thoroughly after you sanitise your groceries, and throw away all unnecessary packaging and bags.

Can I order a takeaway?

Yes, you can! There is no evidence that the virus is transmitted through food. That said, you need to disinfect the takeaway containers and transfer food to clean dishes before you eat. And of course, wash your hands.

Try to order from smaller, local establishments – big chains need your custom less than the little guys. If you can, order directly from the restaurant instead of using apps like UberEats and Deliveroo. Ask your delivery person to leave the food at your door, and consider giving them a hefty tip for their good service during this time.

Can I visit my relatives or friends?

No – visiting relatives or friends can spread the virus, and defeats the purpose of social distancing. If you have a friend, neighbour, or family member who is self-isolating because they have symptoms or are vulnerable or elderly, you can leave groceries or supplies at their door. Ensure that you wash your hands before touching any items you are leaving for them, and they should sterilise everything with a bleach and water solution.

What kinds of outdoor exercises are ok?

In terms of exercise, go for a walk, go for a cycle, or go for a jog BUT you should avoid all congested or busy areas. Skip parks and popular pathways in favour of quiet streets and empty countryside. Keep 2 metres of distance between you and anyone you approach. Pause and let people pass at a safe distance.

Can I take public transportation?

No, you should to avoid taking public transportation if there is any way you can avoid it. These are packed, poorly ventilated spaces that will heighten your chances of infection. Please only use public transport if you must in order to get to work in an essential service. If possible, walk, cycle, or drive instead.

If you must take public transport, wash and sanitise your hands often, and wear a mask if possible. Allow extra time for your journey so you can take the least crowded trains.

Can I go for a drive?

Short answer – yes, but you probably shouldn’t. If you are going for a drive for entertainment and don’t plan on stopping anywhere, it should be fine. However, you should not get out of your car and come close to others in any public places. You might also need to stop to get petrol or end up needing roadside assistance. Also, accidents do happen, and we need to keep our hospitals freed up for Covid-19 patients. Ask yourself if you really need to take that drive.

Do I need to distance myself from others in my home?

This is a tricky question with no easy answer. Official guidance for those showing symptoms is to take as many steps as you can to limit the spread of the virus to others in your home. This includes sealing yourself in a separate bedroom with ventilation, using the bathroom and toilet after everyone else, double bagging your rubbish, keeping your laundry separate, and having family members or flat mates leave meals and supplies at your door.

Families and shared houses are advised to view the people in their household as one unit. This means that if one person shows symptoms, all must then isolate for 14 days.

How do I prevent feelings of loneliness or depression?

The whole world is asking this question right now, and it is a difficult time for everyone. Chat online and on the phone with friends and family, play games on video calls, and even watch Netflix together with their new ‘party’ feature. Join your local Covid-19 Response Facebook or WhatsApp groups to get involved making deliveries to people in isolation in your area. If you experience feelings of hopelessness or urges to self-harm, call the Samaritans at 116 123. You are not alone.

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