Coronavirus: What does shielding mean?

In July, Government advice for those shielding in England will change. We look at what these changes mean for you if you have been told to shield.
Member of the public

Last updated 23 June 2020

Guidance for ‘shielders’ will change from July.  

Those that have been asked to shield should receive a letter from the Government telling you: 

  • What is changing 
  • When the changes in advice will happen 
  • Why they are being made 
  • What this means for any shielding support you have been getting 

This article summarises what the Government has said.

More information

If you need further information, please read the Government guidance in full or talk to your local Healthwatch.

Find out more 

What is changing? 

From 6 July 2020 

  • You may, if you wish, meet in a group of up to 6 people outdoors, including people from different households, while maintaining strict social distancing i.e. stay two metres apart;   
  • You no longer need to observe social distancing with other members of your household;  
  • In line with the wider guidance for single adult households (either an adult living alone or only with dependent children under 18) in the general population you can also form a ‘support bubble’ with one other household. All those in a support bubble will be able to spend time together inside each other's homes, including overnight, without needing to socially distance.  

All other advice around shielding remains the same and will remain unchanged until the end of July.  

From 1 August 2020 

The Government’s advice will be that you no longer need to shield. Instead the advice will be to adopt strict social distancing. This means that you should take particular care to minimise contact with others outside your household or support bubble.  

It also means: 

  • You can go to work, if you cannot work from home, as long as the business is COVID-safe;  
  • Children who are clinically extremely vulnerable can return to their education settings if they are eligible and in line with their peers. Where possible children should practise frequent hand washing and social distancing;  
  • You can go outside to buy food, to places of worship and for exercise but you should maintain strict social distancing; and  
  • You should remain cautious as you are still at risk of severe illness if you catch Coronavirus, so the advice is to stay at home where possible and, if you do go out, follow strict social distancing.

Will there be changes to the support I receive? 

The food and medicine boxes facilitated by the National Shielding Service will stop as of 1 August, with everyone now being advised that they can visit shops and pharmacies.  

Other forms of support – such as priority supermarket delivery slots and the NHS Volunteers Scheme, amongst a range of local volunteer schemes – will continue. If you are concerned about the support available to you after 1 August, you should contact your local authority

Am I still classed as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable? 

Yes. The categorisation of ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ will remain in place and people in this group should continue to follow their specific guidance specific, available here

You should have been written to about these changes. If you haven’t been contacted, please contact your GP. 

Will I be told to shield again? 

After 1 August the Government will continue to maintain the Shielded Patient List. The Government will monitor the virus continuously over coming months and if it spreads too much, you may be advised to shield again. 

Shielding guidance has been and continues to be advisory. 

Why is the advice changing? 

All Government decisions on shielding advice are led by the latest scientific evidence.  

The latest evidence shows that the chance of encountering Coronavirus in the community has continued to decline. Four weeks ago, around one person in 500 had the virus. Last week it was even lower with less than one in 1,700 people having the virus.  

As a result, the Government believes that advice to people that are shielding can be relaxed.  

Why can the rules not apply from today? 

Following the announcement on 1 June, allowing individuals who are shielding to take steps to go outside safely, without a lead-in time, caused anxiety and confusion.  

This time, the Government are allowing two weeks before the first guidance changes come into force to allow people time to understand the new rules, be prepared, and raise any concerns and issues they may have.

Guidance until 5 July 2020

On 10 June the Government updated its guidance for people who are shielding, taking into account that COVID-19 disease levels are substantially lower now than when shielding was first introduced.

People who are shielding remain vulnerable and should continue to take precautions.

Until the 5 July the guidance for 'shielders' includes:

  • ‘shielders’ can now leave their home as long as they are able to maintain strict social distancing i.e. remain two metres (3 steps) apart from other people.
  • if you choose to spend time outdoors, this can be with members of your own household. If you live alone, you can spend time outdoors with one person from another household. Ideally, this should be the same person each time.

On 10 June, the Prime Minister announced that households containing a single adult will be able to meet another household as a ‘support bubble’. People who are shielding (also referred to as clinically extremely vulnerable) are advised that they should not form a social bubble. Those who are shielding are still advised to maintain strict social distancing and stay 2 metres apart from others – including those they live with.

To read the latest information please visit the Government advice page.

Read further information on schools and the workplace for those living in households where people are shielding. This guidance remains advisory.

Frequently asked questions

The following Q&A, based on information provided by the Government, aims to help you get some of the answers you need, to know about what shielding means in practice.

What does ‘shielding’ mean? 

Shielding is the word used to describe how to protect those at highest risk of severe illness if they catch coronavirus. You can shield yourself following the Government guidance, and shield others by minimising all interaction between yourself and those who are most at risk.

Who has been contacted about shielding?

The NHS has been writing to people considered to be at highest clinical risk from coronavirus (COVID-19) asking them to ‘shield’.

As we move into the next phase of COVID-19, a number of patients are being identified by clinicians as no longer needing to be on the clinically extremely vulnerable list. The decision to remove a patient from the list following a list should always be a clinical decision. Clinicians have been advised to discuss these decisions with their patients and mark their decision on the IT system.

If you have received a text and are unsure of what it means for you, you are advised to contact your clinician to discuss.


Got another question?

To find more detailed answers to these and other questions, read the Government guidance on shielding and protecting people defined on medical grounds as extremely vulnerable from COVID-19.

Find out more


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