MILLIONS of high-risk Brits won’t need to shield this winter – thanks to social distancing and widespread use of masks.
Instead, health bosses say the 2.2 million “clinically extremely vulnerable” people in England need to be more careful and use “common sense”.
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A Government source admitted the original shielding programme was too restrictive and left many feeling “imprisoned”.
Now people will be sent a letter offering practical advice on how to stay safer, such as only meeting others outdoors.
Officials said that in exceptional circumstances they will be told to stay indoors – but it will only apply in some of the worst affected areas and only for a limited period of time”.
With national restrictions in place, including the rule of six and mandatory face masks, those at most risk are already helped by measures which weren’t in place when shielding was originally introduced in March, they added.
‘FOLLOW LOCAL GUIDANCE’
The advice is based on the three-tier system announced last night by the Prime Minister after a surge in Covid cases.
Boris Johnson said areas of England will be ordered into “medium”, “high” and “very high” alert levels.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries said that on the basis of the new system, vulnerable people will be able to keep themselves safe.
She said: “The new system will provide clarity on how best those in this group can keep themselves as safe as possible depending on the rates of transmission in their local area.
“Whilst advisory, I would urge all those affected to follow the guidance wherever they can and to continue to access health services for their medical conditions.
“We will continue to monitor the evidence closely and fine-tune this approach to make sure everyone in this group is clear about the safest way to go about their daily lives, particularly over the coming winter months.”
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Local Covid Alert Level – MEDIUM
- Strictly observe social distancing
- Meet others outside where possible
- Limit unnecessary journeys on public transport
- Work from home where possible, but you can still go to work
- Children should still attend school
- Only meet in groups of up to six people
Local Covid Alert Level – HIGH:
- Reduce the number of different people met outside
- Avoid travel except for essential journeys
- Work from home where possible
- Reduce the number of shopping trips made or go at quieter times of the day
- You can still go to work if you cannot work from home because all workplaces should be Covid secure,
- Children should still attend school
- Do not meet other households indoors, unless part of a support bubble
- Only meet in groups of up to six people outdoors
Local Covid Alert Level – VERY HIGH:
- Work from home and in general stay at home as much as possible
- Avoid all but essential travel
- Significantly reduce shopping trips, and if possible use online delivery or ask people in your household, support bubble or volunteers to collect food and medicines
- People in these areas are encouraged to still go outside for exercise, and can still go to school and to work if they cannot work from home
- Contact local authority if more assistance is needed
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “With coronavirus rates continuing to increase, now is the time to take action and ensure we protect the most vulnerable in our society.
“Today’s announcement will mean every person most at risk from serious outcomes from the virus will have specific advice targeted to local levels, which they can follow to keep themselves as safe as possible, while ensuring they can also keep as much normality in their lives as possible.”
Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director and director of health protection at PHE, said: “People who are defined as clinically extremely vulnerable are at very high risk of severe illness from Covid-19.
“If you are in this group, we recommend that you follow the advice to help protect yourself at each alert level as set out in the guidance.
“In addition to the rules you must follow at each alert level, you can take additional precautions.
“Continue to maintain strict social distancing, wash your hands regularly and try to keep the number of social interactions that you have low.
“The fewer social interactions you have, the lower your risk of catching Covid-19.”
Last night, the Government’s top doctor advised vulnerable Brits to take more care to protect themselves from the bug.
Speaking at a Downing Street briefing, Prof Chris Whitty, said: “People previously shielding are at greater risk.
“We always advise they take greater precautions.
“But we also recognise there were significant difficulties in mental distress and loneliness for people who were put into shielding as they certainly perceived it.
“And I think we’re trying to deal with that in the way we approach shielding.”
However officials are concerned about “killer” loneliness following the first lockdown where people with underlying conditions were told to avoid contact with others for months.
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And people who were deemed “clinically extremely vulnerable” were asked to self-isolate for their own protection.
These included those who were suffering from cancers and respiratory illnesses.
It was also aimed at those on immunosuppression therapies or suffering from rare diseases.