Coronavirus UK: Shielding plan for 2m most at risk ends in July

Vulnerable people, who were told not to leave their homes as part of the government’s shielding programme, will be able to go out after the end of July, it was reported tonight.

As the UK’s infection rates continue to fall, the Health Service Journal (HSJ) said the 2.2 million clinically extremely vulnerable people who were asked to shield will be told they no longer need to isolate at home from the end of July.

Following the reports, the Government has said a decision on when to end the coronavirus shielding programme has yet to be made. 

Earlier today, the HSJ said the government will keep the list of people they advised to shield in case a second wave hits the UK and the vulnerable have to isolate again. 

Food packages and medicine deliveries for the group would also stop, the HSJ reported.          

Two million vulnerable people were sent letters by the government telling them to ‘shield’ and stay at home. From the end of July they will be able to freely leave their homes for the first time. Pictured: Stock photo of a woman reading a letter

In March, the government shielded people with severe respiratory disease, organ transplants and certain types of cancer.    

People who are shielding were initially told not to leave their home or garden, including for exercise, shopping or to go to work.

But on June 1, the rules in England were relaxed to say people could leave their homes once a day for exercise.

Those who live on their own are also now allowed to spend time outdoors with one person from another household, though ideally the same person each time.

The HSJ said the decision to end the shielding programme was made because levels of coronavirus in the community are now sufficiently low.

However, a Government spokesman said a final decision has yet to be made.

The spokesman said: ‘We’ve always said we will be looking at making life easier for those having to shield, when it is safe to do so.

‘We are considering the next steps for the shielding programme beyond the end of June, based on the latest medical and scientific advice.

‘No final decision has yet been made and we will set out more detail shortly.’ 

Age UK said any loosening of the restrictions would be ‘very good news – provided they have confidence that this is truly in their best interests and fully justified by the current level of risk’. 

Charity director Caroline Abrahams said: ‘We know that the last change in the guidance for this group caused some confusion, as well as a degree of scepticism, so its beholden on the Government to be very clear both in its rationale and its communications.

‘Looking further ahead, if the shielding scheme is to be wound down from the end of July, to be replaced by a more individualised approach, it will be really important to ensure that older people are not left high and dry if support is withdrawn before they can take a full part in our society again.

‘Age UK has also received lots of enquiries from older workers in the ‘shielded group’ who are worried that their employers may be unwilling or unable to have them back in the workplace, for fear of being unable to keep them safe.

‘Government must do all it can to support older workers in retaining their employment, for the sake of these older people’s finances and wellbeing and in the best interests of our economy too.’

Blood Cancer UK said it would be ‘extremely concerned’ about any plans to end shielding at the end of July.

Gemma Peters, the charity’s chief executive, said: ‘We are worried that if the Government withdraws support for people who are shielding, it will put many people with blood cancer in a position where they feel forced to go back to work but don’t feel safe to do so.

‘There is a real danger that people will face a choice between financial security and their health, and this would be unacceptable.

‘Given that we now understand that blood cancer increases your risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus more than almost any other condition, we’re concerned the Government is taking a one-size-fits-all approach to lifting shielding.

‘The Government needs to do a much better job than it’s done so far to explain the rationale for its decisions on shielding, as well as to reassure people that it has plans for reintroducing it if the infection rate goes back up.’ 

Elderly people, who were also considered vulnerable, were allowed to see their families and grandchildren for the first time last week. 

The Communications Secretary said single elderly people could spend time with one other household leaving many of them to choose which grandchildren they would include in their bubbles. 

Clinically vulnerable people who were part of the government’s shielding programme were not allowed to leave their home or garden but this was changed on June 1.

The majority of people (62.2 per cent) adhered strictly to the shielding rules but 38 per cent (836,000 people) said they did not follow the rules completely, according to the Office for National Statistics. 

The same survey showed that 35 per cent (785,000) of people said the strict lockdown impacted their mental health badly. 

At the end of May the government removed some cancer, asthma and organ transplant patients off the ‘clinically vulnerable’ list when it was revealed they had mistakingly included people who did not need to be on the list. 

Around five per cent of those who were originally part of the shielding scheme did not need to be.    

The initial list was put together in mid-March just before the country went into lockdown but 107,000 patients were removed from the list after it was validated by GPs. 

Who is on the shielding list and what are the current rules for them: 

 According to NHS Inform, clinically vulnerable peopler are people who:

  • have had solid organ transplants
  • have cancer and are receiving active chemotherapy
  • have lung cancer and are either receiving or previously received radical radiotherapy
  • have cancers of the blood or bone marrow
  • are receiving immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer 
  • are receiving other targeted cancer treatments, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors 
  • have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs 
  • have severe chest conditions such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma and severe COPD 
  • have rare diseases that significantly increase the risk of infections 
  • are receiving immunosuppression therapies 

According to the NHS these people are not allowed to: 

  • have visitors inside their home unless they’re providing essential care
  • leave their house more than once a day
  • see more than one person from other households (this should be the same person each time) 
  • go anywhere indoors including the shops     

They are allowed to:  

  • go for a walk outside
  • meet up with one person from another household outside while socially distancing (this should be the same person each time)