The Department of Health has said it “aims to be in a position this week” to update guidance for those who are shielding during the coronavirus pandemic.
Those who are considered particularly vulnerable to the risks posed by Covid-19 received letters from their GP or hospital care team to advise them to stay at home at all times, avoiding all face-to-face contact for 12 weeks.
Shielding is considered a severe intervention and the impact on mental health and well-being is noted, but it has been considered necessary for those with underlying conditions.
In England and Wales, shielders are now being allowed to venture outdoors once per day, either with members of their household or one person from another household – as long as social distancing and strict hygiene is maintained.
There is no limit to the amount of time they can now spend outdoors, however it is advised that at-risk people avoid crowds or crowded areas (including private gatherings) and strictly avoid contact with others, especially if they are displaying symptoms of the virus.
However, no such changes have yet been brought in for Northern Ireland, where more than 80,000 people are believed to have received the letters telling them to shield.
We understand completely how challenging this has been for many people – and how unsettling the uncertainty has been.
In a statement, the Department of Health said: “We are aware of the recent announcement made for England. Naturally people shielding here will want to know about our plans.
“We are committed to bringing the shielding programme to a close as quickly as the scientific and medical evidence allows.
“However, this must be driven by an assessment of the risks locally. We cannot simply react to what is happening in other jurisdictions.”
The statement continued: “We aim to be in a position this week to issue updated shielding guidance covering specific issues on going outside while maintaining social distancing.
“Work is also ongoing on the overall review of shielding advice, ahead of the end of the initial 12-week shielding period.
“As part of this, the Chief Medical Officer will lead a programme of engagement with people who are currently shielding so that we can take the right approach for our community.”
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