Extremely vulnerable people in Great Britain who have been “shielding” — staying at home at all times and avoiding any face-to-face contact — will be allowed outdoors from Monday, the UK government said in a statement ahead of the official announcement on Sunday.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick will announce that 2.2 million clinically extremely vulnerable people will be able to go outside with members of their household, while continuing to follow social distancing guidelines, according to the government statement. The updated guidance says those who live alone can meet outside with one other person from another household.
This is seen as a boon for the most clinically vulnerable, including many who have not had any face-to-face contact since they were first advised to shield 10 weeks ago. However, it comes at a time when members of the scientific advisory board to the UK government – SAGE – are warning that a premature easing of the coronavirus lockdown could lead to a “significant” number of new cases and deaths across the country.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan also on Saturday urged citizens to “act with caution” as the government prepares to relax lockdown measures on Monday, expressing his concerns that the country is “rushing” to ease restrictions.
However, the government advised those shielding: “The average chance of catching the virus is now down from 1/40 to 1/1000, delivering greater reassurance that it is safe to cautiously reflect this in the guidance for those who have been advised to shield.” It added that people who are shielding should remain at a two-meter distance from others when outside, should only leave the house once a day and should not go to work or the shops. They should also avoid crowded places where they can’t social distance.
“I want to thank everyone who has followed the shielding guidance – it is because of your patience and sacrifice that thousands of lives have been saved,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. “I do not underestimate just how difficult it has been for you, staying at home for the last 10 weeks, and I want to pay tribute to your resilience.”
Johnson thanked those who have helped deliver medicine and shopping or checked in on people who are isolating. “We have been looking at how we can make life easier for our most vulnerable, so … I am happy to confirm that those who are shielding will be able to spend time outside with someone else, observing social distance guidelines,” Johnson said. “I will do what I can, in line with the scientific advice, to continue making life easier for you over the coming weeks and months.”
“Thanks to the sacrifices made across the country, which have protected the NHS and saved lives, it’s now time to begin lifting restrictions, step by step, and while we must all stay alert, we can now start to resume a sense of normality,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.
During his speech at the government’s daily press conference on Sunday, Jenrick is expected to set out a plan to review shielding guidance at the same time as the government reviews its social distancing measures. The next review will take place later this month.