James O'Brien 10am - 1pm
Government yet to decide when to end coronavirus shielding programme
17 June 2020, 09:50
The Government is yet to decide when to end the coronavirus shielding programme, despite reports it will finish at the end of next month.
The Health Service Journal (HSJ) said the 2.2 million clinically extremely vulnerable people will be told they no longer need to isolate at home from the end of July.
It reported that the food packages and medicine deliveries for the group would also stop, though the shielding list would be maintained in case people are required to isolate again.
People who are shielding were initially told not to leave their home or garden, including for exercise, shopping or to go to work.
But on June 1, the rules in England were relaxed to say people could leave their homes once a day for exercise.
Those who live on their own are also now allowed to spend time outdoors with one person from another household, though ideally the same person each time.
The HSJ said the decision to end the shielding programme was made because levels of coronavirus in the community are now sufficiently low.
However, a Government spokesman said a final decision has yet to be made.
The spokesman said: "We've always said we will be looking at making life easier for those having to shield, when it is safe to do so.
"We are considering the next steps for the shielding programme beyond the end of June, based on the latest medical and scientific advice.
"No final decision has yet been made and we will set out more detail shortly."
Age UK said any loosening of the restrictions would be "very good news - provided they have confidence that this is truly in their best interests and fully justified by the current level of risk".
Charity director Caroline Abrahams said: "We know that the last change in the guidance for this group caused some confusion, as well as a degree of scepticism, so its beholden on the Government to be very clear both in its rationale and its communications.
"Looking further ahead, if the shielding scheme is to be wound down from the end of July, to be replaced by a more individualised approach, it will be really important to ensure that older people are not left high and dry if support is withdrawn before they can take a full part in our society again.
"Age UK has also received lots of enquiries from older workers in the 'shielded group' who are worried that their employers may be unwilling or unable to have them back in the workplace, for fear of being unable to keep them safe.
"Government must do all it can to support older workers in retaining their employment, for the sake of these older people's finances and wellbeing and in the best interests of our economy too."
Nick Moberly, chief executive of the MS Society, said: "While we support all efforts to help vulnerable people regain some normality, we're incredibly concerned to hear the Government is considering stopping shielding in England.
"For the millions of people who have been shielding - including thousands living with MS - a blanket lifting of the guidance now will leave them feeling even more frightened and anxious.
"We urgently need clarity around the guidance - including clear scientific evidence - so people can return to some sort of normal life safely.
"We want vulnerable people to be given reassurance that they'll be supported if shielding ends in everything from mental health to food deliveries.
"It's also vital that people won't be forced back to work if they're no longer shielding, putting themselves at risk."