Around 2.5 million people most at risk of needing hospital treatment if they catch coronavirus are being asked to stay at home.
This “shielding” is to protect lives.
Why do it?
While everyone is being advised to keep their distance from other people to help stop the spread of coronavirus, some people with underlying health conditions need to take even more precautions to protect themselves.
The guidance on shielding and vulnerability will be kept under review as the UK moves through the phases of the government’s coronavirus recovery strategy. It is likely that the government will continue to advise people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to shield beyond June.
Who should do it?
Those most at risk, who include:
Solid organ transplant recipients
Some people with cancer who are undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy
People on immunosuppression drugs
Women who are pregnant and have heart disease
People with severe respiratory conditions – cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and COPD
Some people with rare diseases such as severe combined immunodeficiency
Anyone in this highest risk category who has not yet received a letter from the NHS or been contacted by their doctor should get in touch with their GP or hospital doctor by phone or online.
This does not include all elderly people, although they are strongly advised to practice social distancing.
Is it compulsory?
Experts strongly advise people with serious underlying health conditions to follow the advice. If this applies to you, shielding is for your personal protection – it is your choice to decide whether to follow the recommendations.
You could call your doctor to discuss this.
What does it entail?
It means staying at home at all times. You should not go out to shop or go for a walk in public places – it is fine to go into your garden if you have one.
You should avoid any face-to-face contact, so that means no visitors.
Visits from people who provide you essential healthcare and personal support are fine. Carers and care workers should stay away if they have any of the symptoms of coronavirus and anyone coming into your home should keep their hands clean by washing with soap and water.
What about any people I live with?
They do not need to shield themselves but must make sure they follow recommendations to shield you.
They should also stringently follow the guidance on social distancing.
They should also keep some physical distance (two metres) from you and keep to a minimum the time spent in shared spaces such as the kitchen, bathroom and lounge. Shared spaces should be kept well ventilated – open a window.
If you can, use a separate bathroom and bedroom from the rest of the household, and also make sure you use separate towels.
If you share a toilet and bathroom, make sure they are cleaned after every use. Consider drawing up a rota for bathing, with you using the facilities first.
Use the kitchen when others are not in there and take your meals back to your room to eat. Coronavirus is spread through droplets (from coughs and sneezes), so do not share cutlery or crockery, unless it is clean. Use a dishwasher if you have one. Soap or washing up liquid and water gets rid of the virus too.
Keep surfaces that are frequently touched clean – door handles, taps and handrails.
What about my medicine and food?
Communities Minister Robert Jenrick said parcels of food, which would be free initially, and medicines would be delivered to those affected via community hubs.
The Treasury will cover the cost and in time hope to refine the scheme so it is “more tailored to individuals’ needs”.
How long will shielding last?
In England, people have to shield until the end of June and this date will be reviewed. In Wales, it’s 15 and in Northern Ireland and Scotland people have been advised to shield for at least 12 weeks from when they were first told to.
What should I do if I get a cough or fever?
These are symptoms of coronavirus. It does not mean that you definitely have it, but you should contact the NHS 111 online coronavirus service or call NHS 111 or your doctor. Do this as soon as you get symptoms. Do not visit the GP, pharmacy, urgent care centre or hospital.
In an emergency, call 999 if you are seriously ill.
Other tips to stay safe and well
Good hygiene can stop the virus spreading:
Keep physically active by exercising indoors or in your garden if that’s possible.
Look after your mental wellbeing. Stay in touch with friends on the phone, by post or online.
Prepare a hospital bag just in case – this should include your emergency contact, a list of medicines you take and any information on your planned care appointments as well as things you would need for an overnight stay, such as a toothbrush and pyjamas.
You can register for support with food, shopping and deliveries and additional care.
Over one million food boxes have been delivered in England since the programme started.