Shielding is to return across England and Scotland after Boris Johnson announced a third national lockdown on Monday night.
The clinically extremely vulnerable are again being advised to begin shielding – and the Prime Minister said all those affected will receive letters ‘shortly’.
The move is expected to impact around 2 million people in England, though shielding was already in place under tier four restrictions. Guidance from the Government advises that those who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable – defined by the NHS as those at high risk from Covid-19 – should no longer attend work, school, college or university, though the latter three are now all remote only anyway.
Mr Johnson explained tonight: ‘If you are clinically extremely vulnerable, we are advising you to begin shielding again and you will shortly receive a letter about what this means for you.’
Data from NHS Digital last month suggested there were more than 2.2 million shielded patients in England – almost 4% of the population.
Those people are being told to limit the time they spend outside their home, only going out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential.
Anyone in the clinically extremely vulnerable group will have previously had a letter earlier in the pandemic from the NHS or their GP informing them of their status.
List of people who must shield
They include solid organ transplant recipients, people with specific cancers, people with severe respiratory conditions, adults with Down’s syndrome and adults on dialysis, among others.
Earlier on Monday, shielders in Scotland were told not to go into work by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Similar advice had already been brought in for Wales but remains paused in Northern Ireland.
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘If you were shielding and you cannot work from home, our clear advice now is that you should not go into work at all.
‘The chief medical officer is writing to everyone who falls into this category, and his letter will count as a fit note for those who need it.’
Unlike the lockdown in March, no restrictions will be put on outdoor exercise.
However, the First Minister said, rules around outdoor gatherings will change to only allow two people from two households to meet outdoors.
James Taylor, executive director of strategy at disability equality charity Scope, said being asked to shield again would ‘fill many disabled people with anxiety as they face uncertain months ahead locked away from loved ones’ and added that it is ‘vital’ those shielding ‘aren’t left feeling forgotten again like many did last year’.
He said last year many had faced isolation and struggled to access vital healthcare, food and essentials.
He said: ‘The Government must urgently take steps to prevent the failings of previous lockdowns and make sure disabled people are properly supported this time.
‘Many disabled people already felt unsafe going to work and so it’s vital that both the Government and businesses provide support to help disabled people stay in employment, rather than leave furlough up to employer discretion.
‘Disabled people at higher risk of the virus should not be having to choose between their life and livelihood.’
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