Shielding for vulnerable people will not be brought back into use in England as the country battles a second wave of coronavirus through local lockdowns.
The Government announced today that it is switching to ‘soft advice’ for people who are at a high risk of dying if they catch Covid-19.
Earlier in the year millions of people were urged to stay home at all costs to avoid catching the disease, but this time advice will be offer on how people can best protect themselves, and they will be able to choose how strictly to follow it.
Officials said some followed the advice too literally the first time and saw it as rules not suggestions, and that it had devastating impacts on people’s mental health.
Now, the 2.2million people on the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ list will be sent letters outlining what measures they can take depending on how bad the outbreak is in their area.
The guidance will line up with the new three-tier lockdown system which splits the country in ‘medium’, ‘high’ and ‘very high’ risk areas.
None of the three levels will trigger a return to the full-blown shielding seen in March and April, but this could be reintroduced by the Government if a situation is desperate.
People on the list, who will be informed of the advice changes by post, include those who have had organ transplants, cancer patients and those with severe lung disease.
The new coronavirus restrictions could see the return of shielding for extremely vulnerable Britons. Patients are not currently advised to shield in any local areas in England
During the first wave, people deemed to be clinically extremely vulnerable in England were advised to take extra precautions, also known as shielding.
During the first wave of the pandemic people deemed to be clinically extremely vulnerable in England were advised to take extra precautions, also known as shielding.
The shielding programme was paused on August 1, and people who stayed at home to protect themselves from Covid-19 were allowed to return to work.
More than 2.2 million people in England – almost 4% of the population – are on the NHS Digital shielded patients list.
At a Downing Street press conference, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said: ‘Jenny Harries (deputy chief medical officer for England) is going to give a much longer discussion on this tomorrow, but the short version is that people who were previously in the shielding group are at greater risk and we would advise them always to take greater precautions.
Who may have to shield?
Clinically extremely vulnerable people may include:
- Solid organ transplant recipients; people with specific cancers;
- Those undergoing some cancer treatments;
- People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease;
- Anyone who has had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last six months or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs;
- People with some rare diseases which increase their risk of infections;
- Pregnant women with significant heart disease and people on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection.
‘But we also recognise that there were significant difficulties and often mental distress and loneliness for people who were put into shielding as they certainly perceived it.
‘I think we are trying to deal with that in the way that we approach shielding over the next phase but it is something where we want people to take extra precautions where they can.’
It comes after it was revealed yesterday that Boris Johnson overruled Sage experts two weeks ago when they pressed for an even tougher ‘circuit-breaker’ before announcing his three-tiered system on Monday.
On September 21, the scientific advisory group presented a shortlist of options which included banning all indoor contact between households, closing bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, and hairdressers.
At the top of the list was the recommendation for a two or three week lockdown with draconian measures similar to those imposed earlier in the pandemic.
‘If this were as strict and well-adhered to as the restrictions in late May, this could put the epidemic back by approximately 28 days or more,’ the dossier said.
Labour has accused the Government of ignoring the advice but Downing Street insists it has taken ‘robust’ action.
Last night, Sage scientist Professor Calum Semple claimed the new restrictions had come too late and a ‘circuit-breaker’ could be needed within weeks.
Asked if the level of response announced for London is sufficient, the University of Liverpool academic told Radio 4: ‘I’m going to be difficult and say no, I think we’re a little late to react.’
‘The outbreak is a bit like a super-tanker, you put the brakes on but it takes a long time before you see the effect,’ he added.
Boris Johnson has been accused of not heeding advice from the Sage group two weeks ago which urged for a two or three week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown to bring the R-rate down (pictured: the PM at Monday evening’s Downing Street briefing)
It comes after the Prime Minister announced that Liverpool will be the first to go into the ‘very high risk’ category – meaning pubs are shut and households banned from mixing indoors or in gardens.
But Prof Chris Whitty said he was ‘not confident’ the new measures would stem the tide, as the UK racked up another 13,972 Covid cases on Monday – up 11 percent on last Monday.
Prof Whitty added: ‘The idea that we can do this without causing harm is an illusion. It is a balancing act between two harms: a harm for society and the economy on the one hand and a harm for health on the other hand.’
Mr Johnson, addressing the nation alongside Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Prof Whitty, said the options were to ‘let the virus rip’ or ‘shatter’ the economy.
A vast swathe of the country including Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and the North East are facing Tier Two curbs which crackdown on socialising between households and a total of 22 million in England are expected to be covered by the top two tiers after Tuesday.
Mr Johnson said that the rising figures in these areas were ‘flashing at us like dashboard warnings in a passenger jet and we must act now,’ but he ruled out the ‘extreme route’ of a complete national lockdown ‘right now.’