- Advisory guidance to be eased for 2.2 million clinically extremely vulnerable people across England, as virus infection rates continue to fall
- From Monday 6 July, those shielding from coronavirus can gather in groups of up to six people outdoors and form a ‘support bubble’ with another household
- Government shielding support package will remain in place until the end of July when people will no longer be advised to shield.
Millions of people shielding from coronavirus will be advised they can spend more time outside their homes from Monday 6 July, the Health Secretary announced today (Monday 22 June).
Hailing the resilience of those who have been shielding, the Health Secretary confirmed from Monday 6 July they will be able to spend time outdoors in a group of up to six people including those outside of their household, while maintaining social distancing.
Those who are shielding and live alone or are single parents with children will also be able to create a ‘support bubble’ with one other household of any size, following the same rules already in place for the wider population.
This comes as the latest scientific evidence shows the chances of encountering the virus in the community continue to decline, but the Government is committed to continuing with the unprecedented package of support until the end of July to give those shielding time to adjust to these changes.
From Saturday 1 August, the guidance will then be relaxed so clinically extremely vulnerable people will no longer be advised to shield, but support will remain available from NHS volunteers and local councils. People will retain their priority for supermarket delivery slots, and still be able to access help with shopping, medication, phone calls and transport to medical appointments.
Whilst this group of clinically extremely vulnerable people should continue to follow strict social distancing measures, they will be able to participate in more activities such as visiting shops and places of worship.
From 1 August, those who need to work and cannot do so from home will be able to return to work as long as their workplace is COVID secure, adhering to the guidance available.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries said:
“Shielding was introduced to safeguard those who, at the start of the epidemic in the UK, were thought to be most clinically vulnerable in our communities. We know how difficult this period has been and the impact shielding has had on many people’s mental health.
“The prevalence of the virus in the community is now lower and chances of getting infected are reduced, so we believe it is the right time to relax some of the advice so people can start to regain a degree of normality once more in their daily lives.
“People should continue to follow social distancing guidance when outside their homes, as well as frequently washing their hands, to minimise the risk of becoming infected. We will continue to monitor the evidence closely and adjust the advice accordingly if there are any changes in the rates of infection that could impact on this group.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said:
“I want to thank all those who have been shielding for so many weeks for their commitment to the shielding programme. I know this has been incredibly tough. Shielding has involved not leaving your house for months, not seeing people you care about, not being able to wander to the park for some fresh air, or even pop to the shops for something you need. This sacrifice has been for a purpose, and I want to thank every single one of you.
“We knew it was a difficult ask, but these measures have been vital in saving lives. Now, with infection rates continuing to fall in our communities, our medical experts have advised that we can now ease some of these measures, while keeping people safe.”
The Government has worked closely with clinicians, GPs, charities, the voluntary sector and patient groups to consult on these changes and will continue to do so to provide support and advice to those they represent.
Following this review of the shielding measures, the government will be writing to all individuals on the Shielded Patient List with updated information on shielding advice and the ongoing support that will be available to them.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said:
“The resilience and fortitude shown by those that have needed to shield has been inspiring. It’s good news that we are now in a position to start easing some of the restrictions, which I know will be welcomed by many.
“I also want to reassure everyone that we will continue to deliver the unprecedented package of support including food and medicine deliveries until the end of July. You will be sent information that will explain what support is available after that, you will not be on your own.
“I want to thank councils, health and care professionals, the food industry, key workers and volunteers for their staggering effort to deliver a programme on a scale not seen since the Second World War. Your combined efforts have supported millions of people during this difficult time.”
The rates of the virus are now low enough to allow for our advice to be carefully and safely eased, as on average less than 1 in 1,700 in our communities are estimated to have the virus, down from 1 in 500 four weeks ago.
Those identified as clinically extremely vulnerable should continue to remain at home as much as possible, taking particular care to minimise contact with others outside their household and practise good, frequent handwashing.
We recognise that individuals unable to work from home, may feel uncertain about returning to work. Mindful of this, the Government is asking employers to ease the transition for their clinically extremely vulnerable employees, ensuring robust measures are put in place for those currently shielding to return to work when they are able to do so.
For anyone concerned about returning to work once the guidance has eased, we recommend they speak with their employer to understand their specific policies in relation to COVID-19. We advise they discuss their situation, agree a plan for returning to work and adjustments that may be needed before they return.
The NHS will maintain the Shielded Patient List to ensure we continue to provide the best advice to those identified as clinically extremely vulnerable. Should the level of the disease in the community rise in the future it may be necessary to advise that more restrictive measures should be taken in order for those at highest risk to keep themselves safe.