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People in Northern Ireland and Scotland will no longer be allowed to socialise in their homes with people they don’t live with. The rules in England and Wales were also recently tightened.

What are the current rules on socialising?

In England, a maximum of six people from multiple households can meet up both indoors and outdoors – in private homes, pubs, restaurants and parks. All ages are included in the headcount. There are some exceptions – for example when a single household has more than six occupants.

In Scotland, people are being told not to visit other households or other private indoor spaces. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the rules would be in place from Friday 25 September, but she has asked people to comply early.

In public indoor spaces, where Covid-secure guidelines are observed, six people from two households can gather. The same rule of six applies in outdoor spaces, including private gardens.

Outdoors, children aged 11 or under will be exempt form the headcount. Young people aged 12 to 18 will also be exempt from the two household limit and allowed to meet together outdoors in groups of six.

Northern Ireland has also announced tougher rules. Social mixing of households will now not be allowed inside private homes – although there are some exemptions.

Up to six people from two households can meet in private gardens. In other places, both inside and outside, up to 15 can gather with social distancing – but venues, such as pubs, must carry out risk assessments.

In Wales, it is now illegal for more than six people to meet indoors – and even then, the six people must be from an “extended household”. However, people living alone in areas under local restrictions can now meet one other household indoors, Children aged 10 and under do not count in the total. Up to 30 people from different homes can still meet outside.

What are the rules on mingling?

The guidelines for England refer to times when “mingling” could break the rules. It says “there can be multiple groups of six people in a place, provided that those groups do not mingle”.

If you are at a pub, restaurant or other venue, you should “avoid mingling with anyone outside the group you are with, even if you see other people you know”.

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People attending a protest, or other organised event, should also attend in groups no larger than six.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said two families of four stopping for a chat would be another example of mingling that broke the rules.

Will any gatherings of more than six be allowed?

Exceptions allowed in England include:

  • If your household or support bubble is larger than six
  • Education and training
  • Workplaces
  • Protests and political events, if coronavirus rules are followed
  • Jury duty or other legal commitments
  • Children’s play groups and youth clubs
  • Support groups, such as for addiction or abuse

From Monday 28 September, only 15 people will be able to attend weddings or civil partnerships, in groups of six. Funerals will be able to take place with up to 30 people attending.

Can I still go to the pub, place of worship or an exercise class?

Yes. Pubs, restaurants, shops and other venues will remain open if they follow safety rules and allow for social distancing.

However, across England from Thursday 24 September – and Scotland from Friday – all pubs, restaurants and hospitality venues will have to shut at 22:00. They will only be able to offer table service.

Each group can have no more than six people in it and venues should also allow for social distancing between groups.

In England, places of worship can have as many people in them as is safe to do so. Again, people can only attend in groups of six or less.

Group exercise classes are exempt from the rule of six, as long as they are organised under Covid-secure guidelines.

The UK government has listed 30 organised sports which are permitted with more than six participants. It says others will also be allowed if a sport’s organising body has published guidelines.

Can I be fined for breaking the rules?

The new measures mean police can break up groups larger than six.

Members of the group can be fined if they fail to follow the rules or wear a mask where specified. From Monday 28 September the fine for a first offence will double to £200. Repeat offenders will have their fines doubled for successive offences, up to a maximum of £3,200.

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What is the guidance on social distancing?

Each UK nation is advising people to stay 2m (6ft) away from anyone they don’t live with. However, there are some differences:

  • In England, if you can’t stay 2m away, you can stay “1m plus” apart. The “plus” means doing something else to limit possible exposure – like wearing a face covering
  • In Scotland, there are exemptions to the 2m rule in some places – like pubs and restaurants. Children aged 11 or under do not need to social distance
  • In Wales, the 2m guidance reflects the fact it’s not realistic to stay that far apart somewhere like a hairdresser’s. Primary age children in Wales are also exempt
  • Northern Ireland‘s guidance was 1m (3ft) for a time, but is now back at 2m

How long should I self-isolate?

Self-isolating means staying at home and not leaving it.

People who have symptoms of coronavirus should isolate themselves for 10 days and arrange to get tested. Symptoms include:

  • a new continuous cough
  • a high temperature
  • a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell

Other members of their household should isolate for 14 days and not leave their homes.

If you test positive you will be contacted by contact tracers, who will establish who else you might have passed on the infection to.

Anybody they deem to be at risk will have to isolate themselves for 14 days from the point of contact.

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CoronaVirus translator

What do all these terms mean?

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  • Antibodies test

    A medical test that can show if a person has had the coronavirus and now has some immunity. The test detects antibodies in the blood, which are produced by the body to fight off the disease.

  • Asymptomatic

    Someone who has a disease but does not have any of the symptoms it causes. Some studies suggest some people with coronavirus carry the disease but don’t show the common symptoms, such as a persistent cough or high temperature.

  • Containment phase

    The first part of the UK’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus, which involved trying to identify infected people early and trace anyone who had been in close contact with them.

  • Coronavirus

    One of a group of viruses that can cause severe or mild illness in humans and animals. The coronavirus currently sweeping the world causes the disease Covid-19. The common cold and influenza (flu) are other types of coronaviruses.

  • Covid-19

    The disease caused by the coronavirus first detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. It primarily affects the lungs.

  • Delay phase

    The second part of the UK’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus, in which measures such as social distancing are used to delay its spread.

  • Fixed penalty notice

    A fine designed to deal with an offence on the spot, instead of in court. These are often for driving offences, but now also cover anti-social behaviour and breaches of the coronavirus lockdown.

  • Flatten the curve

    Health experts use a line on a chart to show numbers of new coronavirus cases. If a lot of people get the virus in a short period of time, the line might rise sharply and look a bit like a mountain. However, taking measures to reduce infections can spread cases out over a longer period and means the “curve” is flatter. This makes it easier for health systems to cope.

  • Flu

    Short for influenza, a virus that routinely causes disease in humans and animals, in seasonal epidemics.

  • Furlough

    Supports firms hit by coronavirus by temporarily helping pay the wages of some staff. It allows employees to remain on the payroll, even though they aren’t working.

  • Herd immunity

    How the spread of a disease slows after a sufficiently large proportion of a population has been exposed to it.

  • Immune

    A person whose body can withstand or fend off a disease is said to be immune to it. Once a person has recovered from the disease caused by the coronavirus, Covid-19, for example, it is thought they cannot catch it again for a certain period of time.

  • Incubation period

    The period of time between catching a disease and starting to display symptoms.

  • Intensive care

    Hospital wards which treat patients who are very ill. They are run by specially-trained healthcare staff and contain specialist equipment.

  • Lockdown

    Restrictions on movement or daily life, where public buildings are closed and people told to stay at home. Lockdowns have been imposed in several countries as part of drastic efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus.

  • Mitigation phase

    The third part of the UK’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus, which will involve attempts to lessen the impact of a high number of cases on public services. This could mean the NHS halting all non-critical care and police responding to major crimes and emergencies only.

  • NHS 111

    The NHS’s 24-hour phone and online service, which offers medical advice to anyone who needs it. People in England and Wales are advised to ring the service if they are worried about their symptoms. In Scotland, they should check NHS inform, then ring their GP in office hours or 111 out of hours. In Northern Ireland, they should call their GP.

  • Outbreak

    Multiple cases of a disease occurring rapidly, in a cluster or different locations.

  • Pandemic

    An epidemic of serious disease spreading rapidly in many countries simultaneously.

  • Phase 2

    This is when the UK will start to lift some of its lockdown rules while still trying to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

  • PPE

    PPE, or personal protective equipment, is clothing and kit such as masks, aprons, gloves and goggles used by medical staff, care workers and others to protect themselves against infection from coronavirus patients and other people who might be carrying the disease.

  • Quarantine

    The isolation of people exposed to a contagious disease to prevent its spread.

  • R0

    R0, pronounced “R-naught”, is the average number of people who will catch the disease from a single infected person. If the R0 of coronavirus in a particular population is 2, then on average each case will create two more new cases. The value therefore gives an indication of how much the infection could spread.

  • Recession

    This happens when there is a significant drop in income, jobs and sales in a country for two consecutive three-month periods.

  • Sars

    Severe acute respiratory syndrome, a type of coronavirus that emerged in Asia in 2003.

  • Self-isolation

    Staying inside and avoiding all contact with other people, with the aim of preventing the spread of a disease.

  • Social distancing

    Keeping away from other people, with the aim of slowing down transmission of a disease. The government advises not seeing friends or relatives other than those you live with, working from home where possible and avoiding public transport.

  • State of emergency

    Measures taken by a government to restrict daily life while it deals with a crisis. This can involve closing schools and workplaces, restricting the movement of people and even deploying the armed forces to support the regular emergency services.

  • Statutory instrument

    These can be used by government ministers to implement new laws or regulations, or change existing laws. They are an easier alternative to passing a full Act of Parliament.

  • Symptoms

    Any sign of disease, triggered by the body’s immune system as it attempts to fight off the infection. The main symptoms of the coronavirus are a fever, dry cough and shortness of breath.

  • Vaccine

    A treatment that causes the body to produce antibodies, which fight off a disease, and gives immunity against further infection.

  • Ventilator

    A machine that takes over breathing for the body when disease has caused the lungs to fail.

  • Virus

    A tiny agent that copies itself inside the living cells of any organism. Viruses can cause these cells to die and interrupt the body’s normal chemical processes, causing disease.

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