The shielding programme “made a difference” to the most vulnerable people at the start of the pandemic, a study has found, although a repeat of the scheme in its initial form was not recommended.
On Wednesday, Public Health Scotland published an evaluation of shielding – where 180,000 people most at risk from coronavirus were asked to severely limit their contact with people outside their household.
The report found a number of people in the most at-risk groups were already limiting contact with others before the Government-issued guidance, however the programme did make a difference to peoples’ behaviour.
Up to the end of August 2020, a total of 1,839 shielding individuals had a confirmed Covid-19 diagnosis.
A total of 622 individuals, 0.3% of the shielding group, died after a positive coronavirus test.
The report said it was not possible to definitively assess whether the shielding programme provided greater protection than the population-wide measures.
The report concluded: “The shielding programme made a difference: there is clear evidence that the shielding advice changed people’s behaviour and that the shielding support addressed real need.
“However, the shielding guidance was neither necessary nor sufficient to change behaviour in all instances.”
It said the shielding support package did not address all needs, such as those who had to move around due to caring responsibilities, while a return of the initial format of shielding was not recommended.
Nicola Sturgeon addressed the report during her daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday.
She said: “The Scottish Government no longer issues guidance to people on the shielding list which is quite as restrictive as it was in the first wave of the pandemic.
“This is in line with the recommendation in the report that we should not return to full shielding.
“Instead, we must help people who are shielding to make an informed choice about their actions.”
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “This publication and its findings are welcomed showing that shielding guidance did change behaviours, and that the shielding support provided addressed real need.
“While the principle of protecting those at higher risk of infection remains valid, there are a number of lessons we can take forward from the shielding programme which will help us inform and strengthen our future policies to protect at-risk groups.
“For example we are not, at this stage, asking people on the shielding list to go back into the very restrictive form of shielding we saw last March, because we know how difficult that was and how much of a detrimental impact on mental and physical wellbeing it had.”
Everyone in the shielding category will receive their first dose of the vaccine by mid-February, she said.