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Covid England: Number of shielders leaving home rises as vaccines roll out and infection rates fall

Number of Covid shielders leaving home rose in February with 81% venturing outdoors at least once a week as infection rates fell and vaccine rollout steamed ahead, ONS finds

  • Office for National Statistics found 81 per cent left home once at end of February
  • This was up from the 76 per cent who stepped out of their front doors in January
  • Exercise was the top reason, followed by visiting the shops or a pharmacy

The number of Covid shielders who left their homes in England rose last month as the vaccine roll-out steamed ahead and infection rates plummeted.

An Office for National Statistics report found 81 per cent of adults deemed extremely vulnerable to the virus ventured outdoors at least once in the last week of February – up from the 76 per cent at the end of January.

Almost half (45 per cent) who left home went to the shops or a pharmacy, despite being strongly advised not to.

Exercise was the top reason (63 per cent) and doctors appointments (39 per cent) was third. But only three per cent said they had left home to socialise with others. 

Almost 4million Brits were asked to shield during the second wave of Covid because they have underlying health woes which put them at higher risk of hospitalisation or death if they catch the virus, including severe asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

They were advised to stay at home and avoid others until ‘at least’ the end of March, and urged only to venture out for medical appointments and exercise.

But earlier this month they were told they could ‘begin to follow the national restrictions alongside the rest of the population’ from April 1 as the epidemic peters out.

Figures show there are currently just 5,000 daily infections on average across Britain and 62 deaths – down from peaks of 60,000 and nearly 2,000 in mid-January.

More than 30million Britons have been given at least one dose of a coronavirus jab, with 3.5m having been fully vaccinated. 

Shielders are told they should stay home as much as possible and avoid face-to-face contact, but they can leave the home for exercise and medical appointments

Shielders are told they should stay home as much as possible and avoid face-to-face contact, but they can leave the home for exercise and medical appointments

Some 90 per cent said they had got their first dose of the Covid vaccine. Everyone in the most vulnerable groups has been offered at least one dose of the vaccine

Some 90 per cent said they had got their first dose of the Covid vaccine. Everyone in the most vulnerable groups has been offered at least one dose of the vaccine

CAN SHIELDERS LEAVE THEIR HOMES? 

More than 3.5million Britons have been asked to shield since the pandemic began after being identified at high risk from Covid.

The individuals have conditions including obesity, heart disease and lung problems that increase their risk of hospitalisation or death.

Everyone asked to shield was sent a letter that asked them to take steps to minimise their threat from the life-threatening virus.

The letter asked them to stay at home and avoid face-to-face contact ‘as much as possible’.

But it added they can leave home for exercise, medical appointments, or if it is ‘essential’.

It also said shielders should work from home and, where this isn’t possible, not attend work.

Health chiefs always said those stuck in a difficult position regarding work may be entitled to further support.

Shielders can also form support bubbles with one other household. 

The ONS surveyed almost 1,500 shielders across the country to find out how strictly guidance was being adhered to. 

Statistician Tim Gibbs, part of the team behind the research, insisted compliance with shielding advice ‘remains high’.

But he added: ‘We have seen an increase in those leaving their house for reasons advised as potentially risky, such as going to a shop of pharmacy and working outside of the house.

‘Decreasing infection rates across England, coupled with the roll-out of the vaccination programme, may explain why some clinically extremely vulnerable people now feel more confident working outside of their home.’

Some 55 per cent of shielders said they were following Government advice to the letter in February. 

This was down from almost 60 per cent in January.

A further 39 per cent said they were sticking to advice ‘quite closely’, up from 36 per cent in the previous survey.

In the latest survey seven per cent added they were leaving their home to go to work, despite being asked to shield by the Government.

Around 90 per cent said they had received their first dose of the Covid vaccine, while four per cent said they had received two doses.

Everyone in the top priority groups – including the most clinically vulnerable – has been offered a first dose of the jab. 

The 3.8million asked to shield during the winter wave of the virus were told to stay home as much as possible, and only leave their home for medical appointments, exercise and in cases of emergency.

‘If you do go out, try to: Limit how long you spend outside your home, keep all contact with other people to a minimum, and avoid busy areas,’ it said.

Shielding will officially end on April 1.  

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