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From 1 June, the government changed the advice for people in England and Wales who are shielding themselves from the risk of COVID-19 infection. The advice has not changed for people in Scotland or Northern Ireland.
- If you live in England and are shielding, you can now go outside once a day with members of your household. If you live alone, you can meet one other person outdoors, keeping 2 metres apart.
- If you live in Wales and are shielding, you can do as much outdoor exercise as you like, and you can meet one other household outdoors, keeping 2 metres apart.
In both nations, shielded people should not go to work, shops, crowded places or use public transport. You should stick to social distancing rules at all times, and ideally go to large open spaces such as fields or parks.
It is safest to limit the times you leave the house and limit the number of people that you do meet with. Ideally this should be the same person or people each time.
You should maintain strict hygiene at all times, and wash your hands frequently.
Who does this cover?
Over two million people in the UK have been told that they are extremely clinically vulnerable to severe disease with COVID-19. A small number of people with MS are considered to be in this category and are advised to shield themselves from social contact.
This includes people with more advanced MS who have swallowing and/or breathing difficulties and people who are taking certain disease modifying drugs which suppress your immune system and significantly increase your risk of infection.
There may be other people with MS who receive a letter. This is due to MS teams taking other factors into consideration, such as your white blood cell (lymphocyte) count, your EDSS or other health conditions you have that make you more vulnerable (eg, severe asthma).
Why has there been a change?
The government hasn't published the evidence they used when they decided to make these changes. On May 31st, Dr Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, stated that at the start of the lockdown, your chances of coming into contact with a person infected with coronavirus were about 1 in 40. She judged that the risk at the time of speaking was about 1 in 400 or 500. For this reason, although shielded people should still be very careful not to get close to people outside the home, they might reasonably leave their homes for a short time as the risk of infection is much reduced.
Shielding yourself from all social contact is a major challenge. If you have been shielding since you received a letter, you have likely made considerable sacrifices in terms of your everyday activities and social life. The government recognises the potentially severe impact on mental and physical health for people who have been asked to stay at home for so many weeks. By relaxing the rules for people who are shielded, the government hopes to help people who are missing activity and company regain some positive aspects to daily life.
Should I stop shielding now?
The changes in these guidelines do not mean that you should stop shielding. The government has said that people who are extremely clinically vulnerable to severe disease with coronavirus infection should remain shielded until the end of June. This may be revised in future weeks. You should not have people in your home unless they are part of your household or providing you with essential care.
You do not have to leave your home if you are concerned. You may feel safest remaining at home until the risk of infection falls further, although the mental and physical health benefits of going outside would likely outweigh the risk of infection.
If you have questions about shielding and your own personal circumstances, you can get in touch with the MS Trust Enquiry Service on firstname.lastname@example.org uk, or leave a message on 0800 032 38 39. A member of our team will telephone or email you back in confidence.
Can I still get support at home?
If you have been receiving food or medication deliveries, you are still entitled to that support. You can find out how to register for government support while shielding here.
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