Publication - Advice and guidance

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

Published: 26 Apr 2021
Last updated: 16 Jun 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

148.2 kB

15 page PDF

148.2 kB

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

15 page PDF

148.2 kB

Physical distance based capacity for non-domestic premises

Current position

Physical distancing is a key measure alongside ventilation, face coverings, enhanced hygiene and self-isolation if experiencing symptoms, to help us reduce transmission of the virus.

We recognise that many premises have already worked hard to ensure appropriate distancing is in place. Indeed many are already working closely with local regulators to ensure that their premises are adjusted as effectively as possible to manage the risk posed by COVID. There is no change to the requirements within the regulations for businesses and service providers to take measures making it possible to maintain physical distancing. Appropriate distancing has always been required since the beginning of the pandemic and where premises have fully considered distancing in line with their sectoral guidance, taking into account their unique situation, this guidance is not designed to supersede this.

The progress being made in the vaccination programme and measures taken to suppress the virus are allowing some restrictions to be removed.  However the virus is still prevalent and much of the population, including our workforce, has yet to be fully vaccinated. It is also important to note that vaccination does not provide 100% protection and people may still transmit the virus, this means that appropriate physical distancing continues to be a key element to reopening safely.

The requirement for physical distancing continues to be reviewed and at the earliest opportunity where it is safe to do so this requirement will be relaxed.

What our ask is now

This guidance aims is to support

  • public confidence that public spaces have considered physical distancing
  • consistency so that all public settings are considering physical distancing in the same way
  • additional clarity on the physical distancing requirement

While the rules on physical distancing have not changed, many premises may have been closed for some time and in some cases may have previously operated under number caps. Our aim is to promote safer venues and workplaces and a sustainable reopening so that we lower the risk of outbreaks which could mean that additional protective measures may become necessary.

To do that we are asking all non-domestic* premises :

  1. To consider what their maximum physical distance based capacity (PDBC) limits are for their premises
  2. To take reasonable steps to manage the capacity to avoid breaching appropriate physical distancing rules.
  3. To display this maximum capacity at their entrance to help manage public confidence and to help manage compliance with guidance; and
  4. Where appropriate, to complete additional steps prior to opening but no later than May 17 when, if the data allows, we move to Level 2.

*Non-domestic premises, for the purposes of this guidance, are defined as public buildings (non-private dwellings) with the exceptions of those used to deliver essential public services (e.g. education settings, hospitals, courts, prisons, local authority offices; child contact centres etc. where separate guidance applies)

How you measure physical distance based capacity

There is sectoral guidance which should be referred to, to support premises to calculate their PDBC and reopen safely.

Getting your facilities fit for sport ( guidance should be referred to for indoor sports facilities, while the Scottish Government stadia guidance should be used for events in these setting.

Performing arts venues, concert halls, theatres, music venues, comedy clubs, sports stadiums and grounds, museums and galleries and conference centres will have to seek additional approval to operate at a capacity above the advised maximum limits for small events.

For premises hosting or delivering community learning and development, there are limits at each level for these settings. Any premises hosting CLD settings must adhere to these limits.

See physical distance based capacity in events.

The current standard requirement for premises is two metres. Some sectors such as transport and hospitality may instead have one metre requirements subject to additional mitigations. As noted previously most premises have already calculated their capacity limits and this is not designed to supersede this calculation where it is in line with existing guidance

There are no prescribed methodologies for calculating the PDBC. Premises can use any appropriate calculation provided that they can demonstrate that they have fully considered the physical distancing requirements to reduce the risk of transmission.

To aid these considerations an illustrative methodology has been set out to help calculate a rudimentary PDBC limit. This PDBC calculation is based on the fire safety occupancy capacity formula. However, this does not take account of fixed seating and furniture and other relevant variables therefore can only provide an estimation. The PDBC limit for the premises may increase or decrease after due consideration has been given to the factors set out below. For outdoor settings which do not have a fire safety occupancy capacity, it may be helpful to refer to existing publications such as the Purple Guide or Green Guide as a starting point.

When calculating the PDBC limit, premises should take account of the following factors, most of which will be familiar:

  • the layout of the premises inside and outside, considering pinch points such as exits and entrances, corridors and toilets and how people will move around the premises safely. Consideration should be given to access requirements and the safe usage of any provided facilities (such as restrooms)
  • the number of staff on duty, as well as the number of household groups and individuals needs to be considered.
  • where customers or attendees are seated, the possible configurations that maintain the distancing requirements and the furniture will influence available capacity.
  • account should be taken of the fact that individual household groups do not need to physically distance. Planning the seating of households may help maximise capacity within the premises.
  • consideration should be given to what activity the space is being used for, space requirements will change dependent on the activity.
  • children under 5 need not be counted in the number of people admitted to the venue. However, where seating is provided for children this should be included for space measurements, even where the children using the seating are expected to be under 5. 
  • engaging with the public should take place at designated points which have been risk assessed, or where physical distancing can be observed and where queues are avoided
  • there is an increased risk that physical distancing will not be observed in queues, and that this can lead to people crowding together, which must be avoided as much as possible. There should be no queueing inside licensed hospitality settings, such as at bars, where table service is a requirement. Elsewhere, queueing will need careful management ensuring requisite spacing, using physical separators/screens where necessary or possible to provide a barrier between people, and/or one-way systems.
  • steps should be taken to avoid queues outside premises as much as possible but where unavoidable for safety reasons due to the business model measures should be taken to manage queuing through booking systems and if queues occur, ensure physical distancing is maintained. 
  • systems should be in place to safely manage capacity to avoid overcrowding. It is essential that crowding in general is not permitted. This is an identified risk and must be avoided at all times. 

The above factors should be considered by premises when calculating their maximum PDBC as part of their ongoing risk assessments to ensure they are in compliance with the requirements in the Coronavirus regulations and the associated guidance.

The requirement in brief is that persons responsible for businesses, places of worship or providing a service, take measures which ensure that physical distancing can be maintained. This, along with measures to limit close face-to-face interaction and maintain hygiene, will help to minimise the risks of exposure to coronavirus. As noted there is no prescribed methodology which is possible to fit all premises, people responsible for operating these premises should take consideration of this guidance when assessing and setting their own PDBC limits. 

Additional COVID mitigation measures to consider

Limiting overall capacity to ensure that physical distancing is possible is a requirement to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus, but on its own it is not sufficient. Premises should therefore ensure that other relevant safety measures are in place no matter how many attendees are present on the setting. Examples of the types of measures are:

  • maximising ventilation in the setting in line with guidance
  • controlling the use of entrances, passageways, stairs and lifts
  • controlling the use of shared facilities such as toilets and kitchens
  • providing, or requiring the use of, personal protective equipment where appropriate
  • providing information to those entering or working at the setting about how to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus, for example having hand sanitiser available, ensuring touchpoints are cleaned.
  • there are also requirements on staff, suppliers and members of the public to wear face coverings (with some exceptions such as when they are seated and eating) and around good hand and respiratory hygiene. Premises should ensure they support staff, suppliers and members of the public in meeting these requirements via signage and providing hand washing facilities.
  • in certain settings, you must collect and record the details of customers, staff and anyone else who visits the venue, this includes pubs, bars, restaurants or cafes that may be part of another business, such as a hotel, visitor attraction or club. We'd also ask owners or managers of other businesses and services to collect and record the details of visitors, if possible. One way of making sure you collect people's details is by displaying a Check In Scotland QR code poster at your venue, and asking anyone who visits to scan this QR code when they arrive.
  • premises may wish to use the Coronavirus (COVID-19): compliance self-assessment tool - ( to help assess the measures in place.

Relevant sectoral guidance noted earlier should be consulted when considering the points above.

Displaying capacity

Premises are expected to publicly display their maximum capacity for the premises with physical distancing taken into account. It may help manage customer expectations and boost consumer confidence. The sign displaying the capacity should be large enough and clear enough for people to read easily (A4 sized). The maximum PDBC limit should not be breached as it is based on the maximum amount of people who can be accommodated in a setting with appropriate physical distancing, taking account of the critical points of layout and how people will move around the premises.

Some settings (for example conference centres) may operate multiple discrete public spaces, where that is the case a PDBC should be calculated for each separate space and displayed appropriately. If spaces are mixed use the PDBC may differ substantively depending on the physical set up, where this is the case it should also be reflected in the signage.

In line with other guidance there should also be clear signage throughout the setting to inform people if they are within a one metre or a two metre physical distancing zone and, most importantly, that everyone is reminded to observe the requirement to distance. The setting should seek to challenge any occurrence of crowding and remind staff, attendees and suppliers of their duty of care when within the setting and to each other by observing physical distancing.

Help and support

Local Authorities will continue to engage with premises to support compliance with coronavirus regulations and guidance. Local Authority regulators are working to the 4 E’s approach, by engaging, explaining, encouraging and, as a last resort, enforcing. During their routine compliance checks on premises where there has been a reported concern, Local Authority officers will, as previously, consider the distancing in place and capacity limits of the premises, including asking questions about how the capacity limits have been determined.  If the local authority have any concerns they will support the premises to work out a safer maximum capacity.

First published: 26 Apr 2021 Last updated: 16 Jun 2021 -