The Government has told millions of people classed as clinically vulnerable to coronavirus to take “extra precautions” during the winter lockdown, but stopped short of implementing formal shielding.
While some people classed as vulnerable have welcomed the second lockdown, charities warned that millions who were previously asked to shield need urgent clarity and support.
In England, pubs, bars, restaurants and non-essential retail will close from November 5 until December 2 and people will be told to stay at home unless they have a specific reason to leave – but schools, colleges and nurseries will remain open.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the Downing Street press conference on Saturday: “I know how tough shielding was and we will not ask people to shield again in the same way.
“But we are asking those who are clinically extremely vulnerable to minimise their contact with others and not to go to work if they are able to work from home.”
England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty added that the more than two million people on the previous shielding list need to take “extra precautions”, but shielding would not be reintroduced due to “the issue of people having significant problems with loneliness and feeling completely cut off from society”.
The Government has classed “clinically vulnerable” people as those aged 60 and over, and those under 60 with an underlying health condition including chronic diseases, respiratory diseases like asthma, pregnant and overweight people.
There is a further group of people who are defined as “clinically extremely vulnerable” to coronavirus, and the Government will be providing more clarity on guidance for both groups on Monday.
A mother who was previously classed as “extremely clinically vulnerable” due to having Crohn’s disease said she feels “reassured” by the second lockdown.
Sophie Jones-Cooper, 41, from Cheltenham, spent five weeks in solitary isolation at home during the first lockdown because of her condition, and her four-year-old twins and seven-year-old son also did not see any other children until schools reopened.
She said she welcomes schools remaining open during the second lockdown while businesses close as a “balanced approach” to protect those most vulnerable to the virus.
However, Age UK has said older people are likely to struggle with “less direct contact with family and friends”, adding the charity will be “mobilising to help in every way we can”.
The charity’s director Caroline Abrahams said: “Many older people’s hearts will have sunk to their boots after hearing this news.
“That’s why this weekend it’s really important we reach out to the older people in our lives to tell them we love them, they are not forgotten and we’ll be there to support them through this new period of national lockdown.
“If you are worried for yourself or someone else please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You are not alone.”
James Taylor, a director for disability equality charity Scope, urged the Government to provide clarity and more accessible advice about “the renewed form of shielding” for disabled people and their employers, adding it is “vague at best”.
He said millions of disabled people have been shielding since March, and will now be feeling “that same aching worry as they face more time away from loved ones without essential support”.
Mr Taylor said: “We are concerned that there are still too many disabled people who will fall through the gaps of the financial support measures offered and will have to choose between heating and eating this winter.
“Disabled people felt forgotten by Government during the first wave and must not be abandoned now.”
Mental health charity Mind has also urged the Government to support those who feel alone through a second lockdown.
The charity’s chief executive Paul Farmer said there is an “urgent need” for a “winter mental health support package” including in-person and online services.
He said: “The Government has to learn from mistakes in the first wave, making sure people can get help early on.”
The Government has promised to write to everybody who is clinically extremely vulnerable to set out detailed advice for the second lockdown.