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Pandemic rules for older people living independently

coronavirus and the elderly in the UK

As we come out of lockdown the ‘guidance’ around who we can see when, and where we can go, is changing rapidly. For anyone who’s been at home and is now just venturing out into the world, it can appear very confusing.

With this in mind, it seems worth offering a snapshot of the guidelines and rules likely to apply to your older family and friends currently. While this may change again soon, you can always check on the UK government website for the very latest advice.

Just to add to the confusion, although this is a website called Gov.UK, the guidance here only applies to England. ScotlandWales and Northern Ireland are emerging from lockdown at different paces, and you’ll need to check their guidance if you live or intend to travel to those areas. And, just to throw in another challenge, areas with a spike in coronavirus cases may have their own local restrictions, so you’ll need to look at that information too.

General guidelines for older and vulnerable people

The government recognises that those over 70 can be perfectly fit and well, but still advises that the elderly are more susceptible to the effects of Covid-19, and recommends they take extra care.

The guidance for those deemed clinically vulnerable and have been shielding is being relaxed from 1 August. Now they can go outside to buy food, to places of worship and for exercise – but they are requested to maintain strict social distancing as they are still at risk of severe illness. The general advice is to stay at home where possible. The guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable group remains in place.

As before, anyone with symptoms of Covid-19 should be tested, and in the meantime stay away from others.

Support bubbles

The concept of support bubbles comes up in just about every area of the guidance. If you have a relative or friend who lives on their own, they can create a support bubble with you or another household.

A support bubble means that the two households can be treated as one when it comes to visiting each other and travelling together. There’s no need for social distancing within the bubble, but the social distancing advice still applies to everyone else.

It’s likely to be very beneficial to your friend or relative to create that bubble, as it can make life easier and help to alleviate loneliness.

Be aware though that you can’t change the bubble once it’s formed, so think carefully about who can provide the most support.

Visiting and meeting people


People in a social bubble can visit each other at any time without social distancing.

In addition, up to two households can now meet indoors. Members of a support bubble count as one household.

So if your parent is in a support bubble with you, you can all meet with members of one other household in one of your homes.

As with most guidance, it’s a little complicated. The people in the support bubble don’t have to maintain social distancing amongst themselves, but they are supposed to be socially distant with the other household.


If you’re getting together outdoors, the rules are more relaxed.

Up to six people can meet, even if they don’t live together and are not in the support bubble.

Larger groups of more than six people are permitted, but only if those people are from just two households (with a bubble counting as one household).

There is more information about the guidelines you should follow when meeting people you do not live with here.

Larger gatherings

The two household rules for indoors and six for outdoors generally holds.

However you can continue to meet in larger groups if it’s necessary for situations such as voluntary or charitable services (although we gather many older people have given up these activities for now), to fulfil legal obligations, to provide emergency assistance, or to enable someone to avoid illness, injury or risk of harm.

You can’t hold gatherings of more than 30 people in private homes, gardens or other outdoor spaces. These meetings should be hosted by venues who are following Covid-19 Secure guidelines.

If you are part of a larger gathering, the advice includes:

  • limiting the time you spend interacting with people from outside your household or support bubble to the activity which you are partaking in
  • limiting the number of different activities which you partake in succession to reduce the potential chain of transmission
  • following strict social distancing guidelines from people outside your household or support bubble
  • keeping the group size to the minimum which allows the activity to take place

Staying overnight

People can stay overnight in someone else’s home, but if it’s not someone in the support bubble, then social distancing still applies. And again, only one household can visit another household overnight.

The guidance emphasises that hand washing and keeping surfaces clean is very important, and that where possible the two households should avoid sharing facilities such as bathroom.

Funerals and weddings

You should only invite close friends and family to a funeral. The premises will limit capacity based on how many people it can safely accommodate with social distancing in place, and the government advises that funerals are limited to a maximum of 30 people.

The guidance on funerals can be found here.

From 1 August, small wedding receptions will be able to take place. This means sit-down meals for no more than 30 people and subject to Covid-19 guidance. Larger parties aren’t yet allowed.

Day-to-day activities

Shopping and banking

Face coverings are currently mandatory on public transport, and in shops, supermarkets, indoor shopping centres, banks, building societies, post offices, and indoor transport hubs. People are also strongly encouraged to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces where there are people they do not normally meet. Relevant guidance on face coverings is available here.

There are legitimate and acknowledged reasons for not wearing face coverings, including a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability. If you need to identify yourself, communicate with someone who relies on lip reading, or possibly to eat or drink, then those are all reasons to remove the covering.

There are downloadable certificates available that you can carry to say you don’t have to wear a face covering for medical reasons. The guidance says you don’t legally have to provide documentation, and that you shouldn’t be routinely be required to produce justification for not wearing a face covering. However, not every member of the general public understands the guidance on face coverings, and it’s possible that anyone not wearing a mask could be challenged. Read more about face masks here.

Clubs and support groups

Premises such as activity clubs and community centres are now allowed to reopen, provided they follow the COVID-19 Secure guidelines. But the usual advice applies – social distancing, washing hands, and limiting any interactions with anyone outside a person’s household or support bubble.

Looking after grandchildren

As people from two different households can meet indoors, grandparents can see their grandchildren. Grandparents can provide childcare if the grandchildren are part of their support bubble. If they’re not, then the rule is that they can only care for the grandchildren if they can practise social distancing – which could be tricky.

Pubs and restaurants

The government wants us to get back to eating out to support struggling businesses. This could be a step too far for many who have been staying at home for the last few months.

If your relatives or friends would like to join other households in eating or drinking out, then the wider guidance on group size applies: up to two households indoors, and up to either two households or six people from more than two households outdoors.

The restaurant or pub will have rearranged its seating and serving arrangements in line with the guidance they have been given. That may mean ordering with an app from a limited menu, and expecting staff to be protecting themselves and you as much as possible.

Booking ahead is hugely advisable, and to help the restaurants, if you can’t take up your reservation, let them know in advance so they can rebook the table.

Theatres and concerts

Outdoor performances are permitted as the risk of transmission appears to be lower outdoors. You should only be seated with members of one other household and, wherever possible, socially distance from those you do not live with (or who are not in your support bubble) to reduce the risk of chains of transmission.

Indoor performances in front of a live audience haven’t been allowed up until now, but that will change from 1 August. The government is acting cautiously on this move, with venues required to ensure the audience is socially distanced, and that pilot projects are completed successfully.

There’s an added issue that singing, chanting, shouting or even talking loudly could add to the risk of virus transmission. That means singalongs are not likely to be included in the performance. The guidance also says we should also ‘avoid environments that require you to raise your voice to communicate with anyone outside your household’, which could be a challenge for those with impaired hearing.

If you’re unsure about attending events that you have already booked, you can check the website of the venue for latest information, although they will also be uncertain what the future holds.

Attending a place of worship

Places of worship can open for services and communal prayer in line with guidance for reopening Places of Worship. Again, attendees are advised to limit their social interaction in these venues to their own household and up to one other, wherever possible, and use social distancing.


You can now travel any distance, although advice is to avoid public transport where possible. If you do use public transport, some sort of face covering is mandatory. And check if you’re travelling across countries within the UK as to the rules that apply.

Sharing a vehicle

We’re still being advised not to share a vehicle with anyone outside our household or social bubble. But if you are going to share transport, the advice is to:

  • share the transport with the same people each time
  • keep to small groups of people at any one time
  • open windows for ventilation
  • travel side by side or behind other people, rather than facing them, where seating arrangements allow
  • keep as much distance from each other as possible within the constraints of the seating arrangements
  • clean your car between journeys using standard cleaning products – make sure you clean door handles and other areas that people may touch
  • wear face coverings

Days out

There’s no problem with visiting outdoor areas, such as National Parks or beaches – although as we’ve seen, they can become overcrowded. It is advisable to check ahead to ensure the venue is open to visitors.

You are also able to visit most indoor sites and attractions. It is strongly advised that you only attend these places in groups of up to two households (again with anyone in a support bubble counting as one household).

Be aware that many organisations, including the National Trust and the RHS, are operating online booking systems to limit the number of people visiting at any time. It’s strongly advisable to check and book, as it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to just turn up and enter, even if you’re a member.

Short breaks and holidays in England

You can stay overnight away from the place where you are living, including second home, hotels, bed and breakfasts and campsites.

You should only stay overnight in groups of up to two households (anyone in the same support bubble counts as one household) and should ensure you maintain social distancing with anyone else that you meet. A focus on hygiene is advised – hand washing, surface cleaning and trying not to share facilities such as bathrooms.

Overseas holidays

Travel abroad is much more complicated, and you’ll need to be aware of current advice of the foreign office here and the rules within other countries. That includes any requirements for self-isolation on arrival here or elsewhere, and making sure you know what the rules for social distancing, using shops and other venues, and any other activities.

Future changes

We’ve done our best to summarise current advice at the end of July accurately in this article, but with the speed of change and variety of rules across the country, it’s always best to check before you act.

If you found this article useful, take a look at our growing collection of articles around coronavirus and its effects on older family and friends.


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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