Got a symptom but not sure what's causing it? Use our award-winning symptom checker to find out – it's free!

25th March, 20204 min read

Physical distancing: What you need to know

Medical reviewer:Healthily's medical team
Author:Meera Senthilingam
Last reviewed: 25/03/2020
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

As the coronavirus continues to spread worldwide, you may have been told to keep your distance from other people.

This is a practice known as physical distancing.

The World Health Organization (WHO), along with national health agencies and governments across the globe, are recommending physical distancing to help limit the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

But what does it mean and why should you do it?

What is physical distancing?

Physical distancing, also known as social distancing, means staying away from other people - keeping your distance.

Different organisations have slightly different definitions, but the idea is to keep a physical distance of at least 1 metre (3 feet) between yourself and other people.

The UK government and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US say that it’s best to keep at least 2 metres (6 feet) away from others.

Physical distancing is particularly advised if you’re over 70, pregnant or have an underlying health condition.

Why is physical distancing necessary?

It’s thought that the coronavirus is spread by breathing in droplets that spray from the mouth or nose of an infected person when they cough, sneeze or exhale. If you’re standing nearby, it’s easier to breathe in these droplets.

If you’re infected, you could spread the virus to someone who is physically close to you.

In addition to physical distancing, you should also practice good hand hygiene to reduce your risk of catching or spreading the virus.

This is because the virus can survive anywhere from several hours to a few days on hard surfaces such as tables and door handles, which means it can be spread by touching objects or surfaces and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

How to keep your distance from others

There are many ways to keep a safe distance from others during the coronavirus outbreak. Some examples include:

  • not using public transport unless it’s necessary
  • working from home where possible
  • not meeting friends, family or anyone outside of your household
  • avoiding small and large public gatherings
  • using phone or online services to contact your doctor or healthcare provider

In general, the best way to avoid getting or spreading coronavirus is to stay at home and only go out for essential trips, like buying food.

How can you do it and maintain your mental health?

It’s hard to keep your distance from other people, especially friends and family. It’s even harder to do it for a long period of time.

But there are ways you can practice physical distancing and stay active and connected to others.

You can workout from home, keep up with your favourite activities, such as cooking or reading, and use technology to stay in touch with people as much as possible.

If you think you may have coronavirus, you can use our COVID-19 Symptom Mapper to check your symptoms and compare them with others around the world.

This should give you a better understanding of how the illness is affecting you and will help us to map the spread of the outbreak.


Advice for public [Internet]. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available here.

Guidance on social distancing for everyone in the UK [Internet]. GOV.UK. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available here.

Risk Assessment and Management [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available here.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) - Transmission [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available here.

Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19) [Internet]. 2020 [cited 25 March 2020]. Available here.

Was this article helpful?

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.