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Shielding programme pause set to go ahead except in high-risk areas

The planned pause of the Covid-19 shielding programme will still go ahead tomorrow, despite the Government halting some other lockdown easing measures that had been planned for this weekend.

This comes amid a rise in transmissions in England for the first time since May, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson telling a press conference this afternoon that it is time to ‘squeeze the break pedal’.

This includes delaying the opening of venues such as bowling alleys and casinos, while face masks will be made compulsory in more indoor venues.

However, patients who have shielded from Covid-19 should still go back to their ‘Covid secure’ work places from tomorrow, the Prime Minister said.

The exception is clinically extremely vulnerable patients in high-risk areas, which have advised patients to shield for around another two weeks.

Mr Johnson said: ‘We also said that we would pause shielding from 1 August, on clinical advice, and that national pause will proceed as planned.’

The Government has also published new advice to shielding patients during the pause of the programme.

But separate Government guidance, published last night, said four areas would continue to advise shielding for clinically extremely vulnerable patients.

The areas where shielding will continue are:

  • Oldham (until 14 August)
  • Blackburn with Darwen (until 17 August)
  • Leicester – Blaby and Charnwood, Wigston, Oadby and Leicester City (until 17 August)
  • Luton (until 17 August)

Dr Mark Dziobon, medical director at NHS Blackburn with Darwen and East Lancashire CCGs, said: ‘Unfortunately because the virus levels remain high in Blackburn with Darwen, the Government is advising that the shielding guidance is not relaxed in this area on 1 August as it is in the rest of the country.

‘Whilst the guidance is only advisory, I would strongly recommend that anyone who gets a letter or text follows the guidance until at least the 17 August when it will be reviewed again. For those who have not previously been advised to shield, but are being advised to do so now, they may want to discuss this with their GP.’

Dr Zahid Chauhan OBE, a GP and councillor in Oldham, told Pulse: ‘The extra shielding might create more workload, but it’s not a matter of choice and it’s important to protect life. We have to take steps to prevent a future crisis, and colleagues are pulling together to help the most vulnerable. GPs will be contacting patients, and we hope there is information locally.’

Dr Jim Weems, a GP who lives in Oldham, added: ‘We may well need to provide additional support to these vulnerable patients, and at a time when flu planning is underway. I can see that the spikes have been on families, particularly large families and those from our BAME population in the borough. It’s imperative that adequate public health messages get through to them, so we can contain the spread.’

Oldham’s director of public health Katrina Stephens and councillor Arooj Shah both praised the efforts of local GPs during the crisis, such as by following up with patients upon finding out they had tested positive. 

But BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul questioned the Government’s decision to pause shielding.

He said: ‘The threat of a second wave is increasing daily and it is sensible that further easing of lockdown has been postponed. What does not make sense is the decision to remove, tomorrow, the protection for thousands of people who have been shielding without them being properly risk assessed and mitigations put in place to reduce their risk of infection – such as medical grade face masks.

‘How can it be deemed right for those people to be put at increased risk when on the other hand the Prime Minister says theatres can’t open, concerts can go ahead and neither can small wedding celebrations? He’s also encouraging more people to go into their workplaces without offering any real support or clear guidance to either staff or employers if they feel it’s unsafe to do so.’

What has changed for shielding patients

The guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable is that shielding has been paused. The Government said this means:

  • you do not need to follow previous shielding advice
  • you can go to work as long as the workplace is Covid-secure, but should carry on working from home wherever possible
  • clinically extremely vulnerable children should attend education settings in line with the wider guidance on reopening of schools and guidance for full opening: special schools and other specialist settings
  • you can go outside as much as you like but you should still try to keep your overall social interactions low
  • you can visit businesses, such as supermarkets, pubs and shops, while keeping 2 metres away from others wherever possible or 1 metre, plus other precautions
  • you should continue to wash your hands carefully and more frequently than usual and that you maintain thorough cleaning of frequently touched areas in your home and/or workspace
  • you will no longer receive free food parcels, medicine deliveries and basic care from the National Shielding Service

Source: Department of Health and Social Care

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