Coronavirus has spread across the globe, impacting millions – but research has found there are some groups who are more susceptible to the deadly virus than others. As a result, those most at risk have been told to ‘shield’ themselves for the foreseeable future – avoiding leaving their homes for any reason and not coming into contact with anyone outside their household.
Those most at risk have been sent letters from their GP and given advice on how best to protect themselves.
This has been tough for many, unable to see friends and family for weeks on end.
Some lockdown measures are beginning to ease across the UK, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing on Thursday groups of six can meet outside, as long as social distancing is adhered to.
However, there has been criticism for those who are shielding, with charity bosses saying they feel “left behind.”
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When will shielding end?
The Prime Minister was unable to give a timeframe on when lockdown measures for vulnerable people would be lifted at the daily press conference on Thursday.
In England, people have to shield until the end of June and this date will be reviewed.
In Wales, it’s 15 weeks from when those shielding were first told to, and in Northern Ireland and Scotland, people have been advised to shield for at least 12 weeks from the start date.
However, Environment Secretary George Eustice has warned today those shielding from coronavirus may have to continue to do so “for several more months”.
Asked about ways to make life easier for those who are shielding, Mr Eustice told LBC: “Well it is something that we are looking at because we completely recognise that those who are shielded and clinically vulnerable who have been told to isolate and not to see friends and family at all, that is going to start taking its toll on them and we want to be able to find ways to be able to do that.
“But it is very, very difficult because they are clinically vulnerable and nobody obviously wants to visit family in that group and find that they’ve given them the virus.
“So we don’t have answers yet, that’s why they have to remain shielded for the time being, possibly for several more months.”
He added it is “a difficult situation with that shielded cohort”.
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There has been backlash amid the latest relaxation of the lockdown measures, with those at high risk said to be feeling “left behind and forgotten”.
Steven McIntosh, Macmillan Cancer Support policy director, said the latest announcement was “incredibly bleak and distressing” for those in the high-risk category.
He told PA: “It’s simply not acceptable that they just get a message that they are going to have to continue to do this for some time longer, they need to understand what that means and what support is available.
“Macmillan is hearing from people who feel left behind and forgotten, who got a letter at the start of March telling them to stay in total lockdown, not to leave the house, not to see anyone, to protect themselves.
“They feel there has been a huge lack of communication to help them understand what lockdown means for them.”
Nearly 50 charity bosses have written an open letter to the Government calling for the urgent need to publish clear, consistent advice on shielding measures to ensure such people protect themselves and can access support as lockdown eases.
The open letter, sent to the Cabinet Office on Friday, calls for clear guidance from the Government on what to do when the current 12-week lockdown period for the most vulnerable ends.
It asks for a strategy to be put in place to protect them from the virus both mentally and physically when they are allowed to leave their homes.
WHO COVID-19 special envoy Dr David Nabarro said of those shielding: “I think people will have to make their own choices about the level of risk that they want to take.”
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m in the shielded category and I do want to be able to see my family.
“I think it is really important that, in the next few months, all of us make sense of what we know about this virus and the risks, and then we ourselves, with support from our friends and support from of course public health authorities, are able to make choices that will enable us to live with this virus as a threat and at the same time get on with life.”
Dr Nabarro added, when it comes to grandchildren: “I think it will be seeing at a distance, it won’t be close hugs straight away.”
Who should be shielding?
Those who are most at risk include:
- Solid organ transplant recipients
- Some people with cancer who are undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy
- People on immunosuppression drugs
- Women who are pregnant and have heart disease
- People with severe respiratory conditions – cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and COPD
- Some people with rare diseases such as severe combined immunodeficiency
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