Lockdown easing for coronavirus 'shielders' in England, Prime Minister announces

Lockdown measures are set to ease for the clinically extremely vulnerable shielding from coronavirus in England, the Prime Minister has announced.

From Monday, "shielders" will be able to spend time outdoors - observing social distance guidelines - with members of their household.

Boris Johnson praised the resilience of the 2.2 million people shielding in their homes during the outbreak.

The announcement follows easing of a number of restrictions in England, including a return to school for some pupils, up to six people from different households being allowed to meet outdoors, and competitive sports allowed to kick off once more.

Robert Jenrick delivers free food boxes brought in at the end of March to help those shielding. Credit: PA

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick will confirm the relaxing of restrictions for the clinically extremely vulnerable on Sunday.

"Shielders" who live alone will be allowed to meet outside with one other person from another household while maintaining a social distance.

The announcement comes as a number of top scientific advisers to the government were critical of the easing of lockdown measures. Professor John Edmunds OBE who sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) told ITV News relaxing restrictions in England amounts to "taking a bit of a risk".

Mr Johnson thanked those who had followed shielding guidance adding: "It is because of your patience and sacrifice that thousands of lives have been saved.

"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."

The PM also paid tribute to volunteers who had helped the 2.2 million people affected by shielding guidelines during the lockdown.

Reviews of the shielding guidance are expected to be made at regular points in the coming weeks.

At Thursday's daily coronavirus briefing, Mr Johnson was asked by a member of the public what the "approach" to easing lockdown for the clinically extremely vulnerable would be.

Ahead of confirming the changes, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said: "Incidence rates of coronavirus are now significantly lower than before these measures were put in place.

"That's why we are focused on finding the right balance between continuing to protect those at the greatest clinical risk, whilst easing restrictions on their daily lives to make the difficult situation more bearable - particularly enabling the contact with loved ones they and we all seek."

At Saturday's daily coronavirus briefing, deputy chief medical officer for England Professor Jonathan Van-Tam defended easing lockdown despite concerns from SAGE scientists.

Prof Van-Tam said: "Our science advice has been so far that the social distancing that has already been eased is consistent with keeping the R below one.

"The consensus of scientific advice is that the next set of measures announced for Monday, with contact tracing in place, should also keep the R within one.

Those not in the vulnerable group have been granted more freedoms from lockdown in recent weeks.

Steven McIntosh, director of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said the easing of restrictions for the clinically extremely vulnerable was a "step forward".

He added, the group "have felt left behind and forgotten as lockdown eases.

"The Government has listened and it is good news that they are now regularly reviewing guidance for this 'shielded' group and will have written to those affected by mid-June.

Mr McIntosh said the group still faced "heavy restrictions", adding:

"The Government also hasn't yet delivered its commitment to provide greater help to this extremely vulnerable group, and Macmillan has heard from people living with cancer that existing 'shielding' support isn’t getting through.

"So the Government must now set out how they will guarantee the needs of the most vulnerable and isolated are met."

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