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November 11, 2021

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Eight in ten adults think social distancing is important – but four in ten actually do it, says ONS 

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), fewer adults are practising COVID-19 preventative measures and more people are travelling to work, but uncertainty about life returning to normal has increased. 

corona face maskBetween 6 and 17 October 2021, 39% of adults said they had always or often maintained social distancing when meeting with people outside their household. This compares with 84% who believed it was important or very important in slowing the spread of coronavirus. 

The percentage of adults always or often maintaining social distancing has fallen from 63% in mid-July, before limits on the numbers of people who could meet indoors were lifted in England. Restrictions on meeting indoors in Wales and Scotland were lifted in early August. 

Around 90% of adults said they were always or often maintaining social distancing in January and February 2021, when lockdown restrictions were in place across Great Britain. 

Hands, face, space

In the two weeks ending 17 October 2021, 82% of adults said they had worn a face covering in the past seven days, which is down from 97% in mid-June. 

Most people continue to believe that regular hand washing, use of face coverings and social distancing (“hands, face, space”) are important or very important in slowing the spread of coronavirus. 

Around the same percentage of adults in Great Britain surveyed between 6 and 17 October 2021 said they had worn a face covering as thought it was important or very important to slow the spread of COVID-19 (82% compared with 84%). 

However, people were more likely to say that hand washing and social distancing were important or very important than they were to practise the measures themselves. 

A total of 91% considered hand washing to be important or very important, while 82% said they washed their hands regularly when returning home. 

For social distancing, 84% of adults said it was important or very important in slowing the spread, but just 39% said they had always or often maintained it when meeting with others. 

Men were less likely than women to consider measures such as hand washing, face coverings, social distancing and ventilation to be important or very important in slowing the spread of coronavirus. 

Between 6 and 17 October 2021, 94% of women considered hand washing to be important in slowing the spread, compared with 88% of men. On face coverings, 87% of women and 81% of men considered wearing them to be important. 

Meanwhile, people aged 16 to 29 years were less likely than those aged 70 years and over to view social distancing as important or very important (75% compared with 90%). 

On all four measures – hand washing, face coverings, social distancing and ventilation – young people saw them as less important than older age groups. 

Travelling to work

Between 6 and 17 October 2021, 54% of working adults in Great Britain went to a place of work without doing any work from home. 

This is the highest percentage for a year and the same as between 7 and 11 October 2020. 

Just over 1 in 7 working adults (15%) worked only from home between 6 and 17 October 2021, down from 37% in mid-February 2021 and the lowest percentage since the current survey began in May 2020. 

A further 16% both worked from home and travelled to work, similar to levels recorded in June 2021. 

To read the ONS’ complete findings on the number of adults in the UK practicing COVID-19 preventative measures, click here. 

Coronavirus advice for employers

This hub page complies all the latest government coronavirus updates. It includes what you can and cannot do in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, workplace advice from multiple sources, including information on welcoming staff back to the workplace and the latest vaccination information.

It also contains a host of useful external links and resources to find further information.

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