Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): calculating physical distancing capacity in public settings

Published: 26 Apr 2021
Last updated: 13 May 2021 - see all updates

Guidance on how to work out the maximum number of people who can physically distance within a public setting including businesses, places of worship and public events.

15 page PDF

143.5 kB

15 page PDF

143.5 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): calculating physical distancing capacity in public settings

15 page PDF

143.5 kB


A simple way to calculate a rudimentary physical distance based capacity (PDBC) limit for the space (without taking account of fixtures and fittings) would be to: 

  • divide the available floor space by the space required by each individual (as worked out via one of the methods later in this guidance)

However, this will only provide a starting point as there are many considerations which could increase or decrease this figure, including bringing fixtures and fittings into the mix. Some key considerations are set out below, namely:

    • the ability to maximise the capacity by optimising the allocation of seats without breaching physical distancing, for example how you seat household groups could provide more capacity
    • where applicable, the ability to monitor and manage people standing/walking who may cluster or migrate in such a way as to breach physical distancing
    • the capacity of toilet facilities, concourses/corridors/walkways, which despite the overall reduction in numbers, might require yet further capacity reductions to be made in order to avoid breaches
    • the capacity required to ensure access requirements for wheelchair users/those with accessibility needs

Working out the space requirement for an individual

There are two methodologies which can help work out the physically distanced space per person to aid with the calculation. These calculations are based on 2 metre distancing. Premises which are able to use 1 metre should substitute relevant figures into the calculation.

Method 1

This method may be used in areas with good ventilation where people are seated for the most part of their stay on the premises, with additional mitigations in place such as check-in requirements.

This method is based upon a 2 metre diameter circle, centred on the head.

  • For a person seated, the calculation would be the area of a circle with a 2 metre diameter: Area =π r²   Area = 3.14 x 1²  Area = 3.14m²
  • For a person in a standing or walking area using method 1, a square should be used rather than a circle to take account of natural side-to-side movements made while walking/standing. The calculation would be the area of a 2 metre square: 

Area = A²  Area = 2²   Area = 4m²

Method 2

Method 2 is recommended in premises where good ventilation and other key mitigations are difficult to achieve, or where people are standing or walking.

This method takes into account the width and depth of an individual's body, so that, when positioned next to another individual, the distance between the two in all directions measures approximately 2 metres.

  • for people seated: a 2.5m diameter circle would be used (this is to allow for a typical width of 0.5m for an individual who is seated)
  • for people walking or standing: a 2.6m diameter square would be used (this is to allow for the typical width of 0.6m for an individual who is walking or standing, accounting for side-to-side movement)

You may choose to use method 1 in one section and method 2 in another, provided that the sections are separate.

This will allow premises to work out a basic physical distanced based capacity for their seated and standing/walking areas, before taking further necessary considerations as set out in the guidance like seating arrangements, to help set the maximum capacity for the premises.

For more detailed guidance on handling of seated and standing spaces, spectator events and sports grounds, you may wish to see the Supplementary Guidance 02: Planning for Social Distancing at Sports Grounds ( guidance. This provides more detailed guidance for larger arenas. Please note this guidance is set at 1 metre, however you can request a 2 metre version via the Sports Ground Safety Authority website

First published: 26 Apr 2021 Last updated: 13 May 2021 -