FAQs: Living with Covid-19

How can we reduce the impact of the coronavirus Covid-19? (Updated 9th Oct 2020)

Different governments and councils in the UK are now saying and doing different things and giving different advice and guidance on the coronavirus Covid-19. We're also seeing local 'lockdowns' within countries.

You are advised to check national and local government websites for the latest information. Many councils have useful local information on their websites. With Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all following different paths, the UK government now effectively only speaks for England and, even in England, many councils see things differently. 

Can you make it simple?

That would be a great idea. What we see as the key messages are in the box below. 

The key messages about Covid-19 are very simple:

  • wash your hands regularly and well and follow government hygiene guidance. (There is an online joke suggesting washing your hands as well as if you've just chopped chillis and now want to masturbate. That is actually good advice.) 
  • keep away from others - stay home if you can and if out keep at least 2m from others. This is 'social distancing'. (If you don't understand why social distancing applies to everyone, not just those at higher risk, read: Social distancing is about understanding risk). If 2m is not practical, 1m with other precautions (mask, plastic screens) is the suggested compromise. You should wear a mask where required but should still social distance as far as possible.

This page is about living with Covid-19, for information on the virus itself including symptoms, tests etc, see FAQs Covid-19 (the virus)

You can check the following for more specific advice for your country:

Is that it?

Pretty much, if you can actually do it. The problem is that for various often very good reasons, people either want or need to get out more.

Just remind me: what is Covid-19?

It is a type of coronavirus that was first detected in China at the end of 2019. Because it’s new, most of us don't have immunity to it yet (and we don't know how long any immunity lasts anyway).

Some coronoviruses are mild; some like SARS in 2002 are more serious. This is one of the more dangerous - worldwide well over a million people have officially died of Covid-19 and the real total is probably far more. Contrary to what you might think, the number of cases around the world is increasing. Numbers were falling in the UK but are now going up again.

For more on the virus see: FAQs Covid-19 (the virus)

Sounds very serious.

It is. The UK (population: 68 million) has more deaths from Covid-19 than any country in Europe. The only countries in the world with more deaths are far larger countries: the USA (pop: 331 million), Brazil (213 million), India (1380 million) and Mexico (128 million). This means that when it comes to the death rate (deaths per head of population), the UK has one of the worst records in the world. After a reduction over the summer, cases of Covid-19 (and deaths) are once again increasing.

This island has never seen anything like this in peace-time and many other countries are going or have gone even further to reduce contact between people. This would not be happening if the threat posed by this new virus was not very high indeed. The objective is to avoid high risk individuals coming into contact with a potential killer. It's not about us as individuals. You may think you're fine but you could well pass it on.

How do I avoid Covid-19?

The main thing is to avoid getting the water droplets carrying the virus onto your face.

All of the following are designed to stop this from happening:

  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap. Do this often, especially when you get home or to work. Only touch your face with clean hands.
  • Clean hands with alcohol-based sanitiser gel (60-80% alcohol preferably) if there’s no soap and water
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue (and bin it immediately). If there’s no alternative, use your sleeve (but remember viruses can live for days on clothing). Wash hands as soon as you can.
  • Avoid touching door handles, switches etc - use gloves, extend your sleeve or use your foot, hip, elbow or parts of your hand you’re unlikely to touch to your face (eg. your knuckle or closed fist)
  • Keep 2m away from others - if you're in a space where this might be difficult, consider a one metre distance plus a face covering (mask, bandana, burkha, whatever). More below.

Under so-called lockdown, the advice was to stay at home except in specific circumstances. This is no longer the case.

Ok, so what is the advice?

Good question. The two key words are no longer 'stay home' but 'social distance'. It's still best to work at home if you can and avoid unnecessary contact with others but, if you are out, social distance. That means keep 2m apart (or, in an enclosed space where 2m is not possible, 1m with other measures such as a mask). Make sure you know when and where you are expected to wear a face mask and do so (for example, on public transport or in a shop).

Most people will choose to be at home more than before the pandemic. There's more on staying at home without going mad on this website and the offical guidance on what you can and can't do in England on the government website. .

In terms of seeing people, what can I do?

You will need to check national and local websites as suggested. Broadly speaking the UK government would like to ease restrictions but increasing numbers of Covid cases are undermining this and it is likely that restrictions will need to be increased again in the future. In England, for example, the country is divided into three tiers corresponding to the level of risk:

In all three tiers, all retail (both essential and non-essential) can open as can schools and universities. Weddings (max 15 people) and funerals (max 30) can continue.


  • Hospitality closes at 10pm
  • Indoors - rule of six (ie. no more than six people can meet)
  • Outdoors - rule of six


  • Indoors - no household or support bubble mixing at all (including exercise classes)
  • Outdoors - rule of six
  • Reduce travel

Very high

  • Indoors - no household mixing at all ( (including exercise classes)
  • Outdoors (private gardens) - no household or support bubble mixing
  • Outdoors (public spaces) - rule of six 
  • Pubs and bars close - restaurants can serve alcohol but only with a ‘substantial’ meal
  • No wedding receptions
  • No travel in and out except for work, education or caring responsibilities.

There are some exceptions to all this. Who you can see and in what number and where is not always logical. Check the official guidance if you're not sure. 

There's more on the UK government's line on social distancing here.

What's a support bubble?

Single adult households can team up with another household to form a 'support bubble'. (A single adult household is an adult living alone or alone with children under 18.)

In a 'support bubble' there's no need to social distance. You can enter each others' homes and stay overnight. This means, for example, that a lone grandparent can join a family group. You can only form one 'support bubble'.

If anyone in a 'support bubble' shows symptoms of the virus or is contacted via the NHS test and trace programme, then everyone in the 'support bubble' must follow the guidance on isolation etc.

Which places are open?

This varies widely. Best check locally.

Is it safe to do all this?

That depends who you ask. Months ago, the government set five tests for easing lockdown:

  • that the NHS could cope
  • a sustained and consistent fall in the death rate
  • new infections decreasing to a 'manageable' rate
  • having enough testing and personal protective equipement (PPE) and meeting other 'operational challenges'
  • no risk of a second wave overwhelming the NHS

During the summer, some of these criteria were being met but now few if any are. Testing is breaking down and the infections may now be getting to a rate that is difficult to manage. This puts the NHS at genuine risk heading into winter.

The UK's rate of infection (called the R number) is above 1 (1.3 to 1.6 on 2 Oct). It has been increasing over recent weeks across the whole UK (not just the north of England) and this increase continues. When the number is over 1 (meaning that one person with the virus infects more than one other), infection takes off and cases start increasing rapidly.

Is it safe to go back to work?

That's a big question. The government has issued guidance to employers about how to make workplaces safer. From 1 August, employers should consult with their employees to determine how to work safely. The government said they wanted people back at work if possible as they think it will help high street sales. But recently they've accepted that working at home where possible is better. If you don't think it's safe to work, talk to your trade union if you can. There's also information on the TUC website including their answer to the question: Can I refuse to work because of coronavirus?

Stay at home if you're ill. (The 111 online Coronavirus service will tell you how to get an isolation note for work.) But best discuss things with your workplace. They should be developing policy on:

  • pay
  • what to do if you’re ill and 
  • implementing the government guidance at work

Those who work in businesses and workplaces which can open are being encouraged to go back to work and ideally to do that by walking or cycling rather than taking public transport. (For people who have no alternative but to use public transport, the government has published guidance.)

Is it safe to go on holiday or travel abroad?

This is a decision you'll have to make yourself. If you're thinking about a holiday, advance research is more important than ever: find out exactly what is waiting for you at your destination. 

The UK is updating its travel advice and for certain countries, you will not have to quarantine when returning. The Foreign Office website includes the latest advice. We have seen the chaos when the status of Spain was suddenly changed in late July. Most people will take this as a warning.

For European travel, there is a useful EU site on what is going on in EU countries called Reopen Europe.

Why 2m social distance?

Because it reduces the risk by about 90%. Read: Social distancing - 2m is twice as good as 1m.

What about wearing a mask?

In confined spaces where social distancing of 2m is difficult, you may want to wear a face-covering or mask. In general, those over the age of 11 must wear a mask on public transport and in shops but check local rules. More on masks and how to make them

If you wear a mask, make sure you know how to use it. Some people say that wearing a mask prevents them from touching their face and reminds them not to do it. A scarf, balaclava, bandana, burkha or similar could do that job as well as a mask.

The government say: 'Evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you. However, if you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms, it may provide some protection for others you come into close contact with.'

They also say: 'The best available scientific evidence is that, when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances, helping to protect others.'

Research from University of East Anglia looked at 31 different studies into the use of face masks and concluded: 'the evidence is not sufficiently strong to support widespread use of facemasks as a protective measure against Covid-19. However, there is enough evidence to support the use of facemasks for short periods of time by particularly vulnerable individuals when in transient higher risk situations.' The research is in pre-print which means it has not been peer-reviewed.

The key point is: wearing a mask is not an alternative to staying 2m apart. You must always stay 2m apart if it is possible.

What is self-isolation?

The aim of self-isolation is to keep you away from others so that if you do have it, you don’t pass it on. It involves staying at home as separate as possible from others. Ideally, stay in your room. Use the bathroom after everyone else in your household and then clean it. Don’t share towels, utensils etc. Get delivered items left outside. The NHS has useful advice for those staying at home and there's more on this site.

I'm a carer.

Carers UK have published some useful guidance.

How do I find out more about Covid-19?

You can check the following for more specific advice for your country:

For health information, check your country's NHS site.

Date published 09/03/20
Date of last review 23/07/20
Date of next review 31/07/20


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