There are around 130,000 people in Wales who are at high risk of developing serious illness if they are exposed to coronavirus (COVID-19). Those identified as being in this extremely vulnerable group were asked to shield by the Chief Medical Officer in Wales to protect themselves from the Coronavirus.
On the 01 June, those shielding in Wales were advised that they could leave their houses and go outdoors for exercise and to meet up with people from another household.
Following on from this - and in line with advice to the wider population - those shielding were advised that from the 06 July they could form an extended household.
These changes reflected the latest evidence which showed that the number of people with coronavirus in Wales had gone down. A greater understanding of the virus also showed that it is not so easily spread outside.
In his most recent review, the Chief Medical Officer for Wales has indicated that, should prevalence of coronavirus continue to fall in our communities he will be able to pause his advice to those who are shielding. The lower the chance of catching the virus in our communities, the safer it will be for those who have been shielding to gradually get back to their day-to-day life.
The Chief Medical Officer for Wales has made this decision in line with Chief Medical Officers across the other UK nations; recognising that shielding was put in place to protect those at the most significant risk of harm at a time when prevalence of the coronavirus in our communities was rising.
That situation has now changed. Shielding can cause its own harms; it can have an effect on mental and physical health and it is important we do not ask people to shield for any longer than is necessary. We must focus on helping those who have shielded to make steps toward returning to the lives they lived before shielding.
From 16 August, advice to those shielding will be paused. This means that people in the shielded group will be advised they can return to school or work – where their workplace is Covid-secure. They can go out to the shops, as long as they can maintain a physical distance of 2 metres or 3 steps.
Those in the shielding group should continue to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside of their extended household. This includes practising strict physical distancing and good hand hygiene. This is the same advice that is already being given to groups at an increased risk from the virus, such as the over 70’s.
It is recognised that many who are shielding will be worried about returning to their day-to-day lives and about losing the support that has been available to them. There are a number of weeks still to go before the period of shielding comes to an end which provides individuals, and those who care for or support them, with the opportunity to plan and prepare.
As of 14 July, more than 150,000 food boxes have been delivered to people shielding and this support will remain in place until 16 August. Priority online food delivery slots are available for shielding people and will remain in place beyond the 16 August.
The national prescription delivery service will continue until 30 September for those who need it.
The shielded patients list will remain in place and available should we need to ask anyone to shield again in future.
From 16th August onwards, the Chief Medical Officer for Wales will continue to review the risks for shielded patients as the physical distancing advice is reviewed for the general population. The shielding group will follow the same advice given to those at an increased risk from the virus.
It is important to recognise that these changes for those who have been shielding are significant. For those who have remained at home at all times the differences in the outside world which have evolved swiftly over the last few months will be unfamiliar.
As a community, we must appreciate those around us who are transitioning back to their pre-shielding life and we should support them to do so.
This means asking all citizens to please keep to the rules. Maintain a physical distance to support those around us who may just be getting used to the outdoors once more.