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Two million Britons ‘shielding’ from coronavirus are told they CAN go outside for a walk

More than two million Britons ‘shielding’ from coronavirus will be able to go outside for a walk from tomorrow, despite warnings that ‘nothing will ever be a 100 per cent safe’.

People deemed ‘extremely vulnerable’ to the illness have had to avoid all social interaction since March, but will now be able to go outside with members of their household while continuing to follow social distancing guidelines.

And those who live alone can meet outside with one other person from another household, also adhering to social distancing guidelines. 

The change in advice was described as ‘modest’ by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, with the next review of shielding measures will take place in the week beginning June 15.

Both Mr Jenrick and England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries stressed that the guidance is advice, rather than a strict requirement.

Dr Harries said the understanding of individual risks with individual diseases is ‘still a learning process’ and cautioned that ‘nothing will ever be 100% safe’.  

Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Dr Jenny Harries attends the daily COVID-19 briefing at 10 Downing Street in London, Britain May 31, 2020

Mr Jenrick said the new change does not amount to telling people to stop shielding.

He told the daily Downing Street briefing on Sunday: ‘We’re not today asking people, or advising people, to stop shielding.

‘Far from it. What we’re saying to the people who have been shielding for the last 10 weeks is that we think that the rate of infection is sufficiently low now to enable you to do some quite modest things like going outside for a walk with members of your household, or like if you’ve been living alone, meeting somebody from another household.’

He said the ‘small changes’ will have a ‘huge impact’ on people’s mental health and wellbeing ‘while still continuing to ensure they’re protected by being at home and reducing the amount of face-to-face contact that they have with people outside their household to the absolute minimum’.

 

 

 

Addressing the public’s responsibility in stark terms while he took part in the daily Downing Street briefing on Saturday, he said: ‘Don’t tear the pants out of it, and don’t go further than the guidance actually says.’

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said ministers had to take ‘many other factors into consideration’ in making decisions, and that Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advice was ‘independent of politics’.

From Monday in England, friends and family can meet in parks and gardens in socially distanced groups of six.

For those who have been shielding, a slight reprieve comes in the form of being able to go outside with members of their household while continuing to follow social distancing guidelines.

Those in this category who live alone can meet outside with one other person from another household.

The easing of restrictions for those shielding follows criticism that this group had been left feeling ‘forgotten’.

Phil Anderson, head of policy at the MS Society, said people would want to hear the scientific evidence behind the decision, which he described as having ‘come out of the blue’.

The Observer reported a letter sent by 26 senior UK academics and health administrators to Downing Street complaining about the impact of the key adviser’s actions in driving from London to Durham with his wife and child during the lockdown.

The group also warned about a failure to enact an effective test, trace and isolate system to pinpoint and then quarantine newly infected people.

As a result, they are now ‘very concerned for the safety and wellbeing of the general public’ as the lockdown measures are relaxed, the newspaper reported. 

Given the updated guidance to people who are shielding, deputy chief medical officer for England Dr Jenny Harries was asked whether people might soon be allowed to visit care homes and see loved ones in gardens or through windows.

Dr Harries said: ‘The guidance is advisory, as we keep saying, it is for individuals to choose.

‘But in a care home setting it is very important that the level of infection is kept very low because it is an accumulation if you like of a number of very, very vulnerable people often.’

She said, while colleagues in the Department of Health are reviewing what visiting measures should be, it is ‘probably a little bit too early’ for advice to change.

Dr Harries said: ‘I think it’s likely that the advice would be very much on a precautionary basis until we’re absolutely sure that outbreaks have ceased and that transmission is very much reduced.’

Housing minister Robert Jenrick told the daily press briefing: ‘We’re not today asking people, or advising people, to stop shielding.

Deputy Chief Medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19) Saturday May 30, 2020

Deputy Chief Medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19) Saturday May 30, 2020

‘Far from it. What we’re saying to the people who have been shielding for the last 10 weeks is that we think that the rate of infection is sufficiently low now to enable you to do some quite modest things like going outside for a walk with members of your household, or like if you’ve been living alone, meeting somebody from another household.’

He said these ‘small changes’ will have a ‘huge impact’ on people’s mental health and wellbeing ‘while still continuing to ensure they’re protected by being at home and reducing the amount of face-to-face contact that they have with people outside their household to the absolute minimum’.

Dr Harries said the understanding of individual risks with individual diseases is ‘still a learning process’.

She said that at the start the chance of meeting someone with the disease would have been about one in 40 and it is now about one in 400 to 500, and the incidence of new cases is about one in 1,000.

Dr Harries said: ‘Nothing will ever be 100 per cent safe’.

Mr Jenrick said the Government hopes those shielding can be given more tailored advice in the future.

He said: ‘We do want to move to a more specific approach in time and our medical advisers are producing advice as to how we can give people more specific, tailored advice to their own condition rather than the blanket approach that we’ve done so far.’

Dr Harries emphasised that the shielding guidance is ‘very much advice’ for people.

On more specific advice being provided, she said work is being done to ensure a ‘new approach’ is ready for if there is a second wave of the virus.

She said: ‘It is possible of course that there could be another wave particularly as we go into the winter and so what we’re really keen to do is ensure that we have this new approach ready for that and particularly also if we do get a vaccine in the future so that we can target it, if appropriate, to those people who are most in need.’

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