Coronavirus: social distancing and staying at home

Published 16/04/2020   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

This article was updated on 12 May 2020.

We’ve published a new article outlining the current coronavirus restrictions in Wales, which you can read here.

People across Wales are practising social distancing and staying at home to slow down the spread of the coronavirus and ensure the NHS isn’t overwhelmed. This article will outline what it means for us all, especially the most vulnerable in our society. The regulations enforcing the stay at home measures will also be discussed.

What does social distancing and ‘staying at home’ mean?

Social distancing includes a number of measures that reduce social contact with people to help reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. For example:

  • avoiding large crowds and gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs and restaurants;
  • avoiding public transport;
  • working from home;
  • keeping a 2 metre distance between you and other people; and
  • keeping in touch with friends and family as well as health services over the phone and internet.

Staying at home goes a step further and means you should only leave the house for very limited reasons. When you do leave the house social distancing should be practised. Currently, you can go outside to:

  • shop for basic necessities;
  • exercise locally;
  • visit local health care services, including to give blood;
  • provide care or help to a vulnerable person;
  • deposit and withdraw money from banks;
  • collect items purchased from a business allowed to be open;
  • access recycling services;
  • visit a library;
  • attend a funeral if invited and visit a cemetery, burial ground or garden of remembrance;
  • meet a legal obligation to attend court, participate in legal proceedings or satisfy bail conditions;
  • travel to and from work, but only where it’s absolutely necessary and not possible to work from home; and
  • leave your house to avoid injury, illness or a risk of harm caused by domestic abuse, or to access domestic abuse support services.

The Welsh Government has published guidance on exercising. It advises that exercise should be done either alone, with members of your household or with carers and it should be done locally. It also says that “exercise should start and finish from home” and should not involve travelling.

Everybody should be practising social distancing, and we all must abide by the staying at home measures.

What does ‘shielding’ mean?

Shielding means protecting those people who are extremely vulnerable to the coronavirus due to certain existing health conditions. A list of the health conditions are included in the Welsh Government’s shielding guidance.

Those people are strongly advised to not leave their homes at all and avoid face-to-face contact until at least 15 June 2020. People identified as extremely vulnerable should receive a letter from the Chief Medical Officer for Wales. In May the criteria for shielding was updated, including that those on kidney dialysis should shield. A further 21,000 patients have been added to the Welsh shielded patient list.

If a person believes they fall into one of the categories of extremely vulnerable people and have not received a letter, the Welsh Government advise them to discuss concerns with their GP or hospital clinician. The Government also says that GPs will receive an updated list of their patients who have been added to the list and can add patients to it.

The Welsh Government has taken a different approach to England with providing support to those shielding. People in Wales cannot register as vulnerable, as people in England can. Instead the Welsh Government is advising that vulnerable people ask family, friends and neighbours for help first, and then ask local voluntary organisations, before contacting their local authority for help.

Help for those shielding

If those who are shielding have a regular prescription which is not delivered or collected by others, and family and friends can’t help at this time, the Welsh Government advise that they should contact their pharmacy to arrange a delivery service.

If the person shielding also has difficulties getting food, then they are able to request a free weekly food box. There are contact details for the local authority included in the letter from the Chief Medical Officer to request this.

On 8 April 2020 the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, said that “the Welsh Government has made £15 million available for the direct delivery food scheme”. The Welsh Government says that “major supermarkets now have the details of all of those who have received a shielding letter to enable them to prioritise internet orders”. Local authorities and supermarkets will receive the updated Welsh shielded patient list from the Welsh Government.

How is staying at home being enforced?

Regulations have been made across the four nations of the UK to set out the social distancing and staying at home rules. The First Minister made the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 (“the regulations”) on 26 March 2020. These regulations were amended on 3 April 2020, 24 April 2020 and again on 11 May 2020 by the First Minister.

What do the regulations do?

Amongst other provisions, the regulations bring in restrictions on movement and gatherings so that no person may leave their home home or remain away from the place they are living without a ‘reasonable excuse’, as outlined above. It also bans gatherings in public places of more than two people, except for members of the same household, for work or attending a funeral.

Police constables and community support officers have powers to direct anyone found to be breaking the restrictions to return to their homes. They can also disperse gatherings and take people back to their homes and can “use reasonable force” to exercise this power.

The regulations make it an offence to break these restrictions, which is punishable by a fine (fixed penalty notice). The amount will be £60, but reduce to £30 if paid within 14 days. If a person has already received a fixed penalty notice under these regulations, the amount of the fine is £120.

When will the regulations expire?

They will expire six months after they came into force (26 September 2020). However, the Welsh Ministers must review the restrictions every 21 days and the first review must be carried out before 16 April 2020.

The restrictions can end before September 2020 if the Welsh Ministers consider that they are no longer necessary and publish a direction to terminate one or more of the restrictions.

Following a COBR meeting on 16 April 2020, the four UK nations decided that the current restrictions will continue for another three weeks.

The second review was carried out on 7 May 2020. The First Minister said that it was “too soon to lift restrictions” so the “stay at home regulations must remain in place until the next review date”. However, there were some small changes made to allow exercise more than once a day and to allow garden centres to open if the physical distancing of 2 metres can be maintained. Local authorities can also begin to plan for the safe reopening of libraries and recycling centres.

The next review will be carried out by 28 May 2020.

Stay safe

Social distancing and staying at home can be boring, frustrating and difficult for us all, so it’s important to look after yourself and others. There are a number of websites which have useful advice on how to maintain good mental health during this period, including Mind and Every mind matters.

Article by Lucy Morgan, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales

We’ve published a range of material on the coronavirus pandemic, including a post setting out the help and guidance available for people in Wales and a timeline of Welsh and UK governments’ response.

You can see all our coronavirus-related publications by clicking here. All are updated regularly.