Shielding may be paused from 1 August, but please be patient with us
From this weekend, the 2.2 million people just like me who have been shielding in England during this pandemic will no longer be required to do do.
Those who have been shielding received a letter from the Government asking us to do so, although there was no definitive date at the beginning of the pandemic. While everyone was under lockdown, this proved to be less of a problem. As lockdown eased, this impacted our lives more and more, as well as our careers.
Who was asked to shield?
Among the list of people who should be shielding are solid organ transplant recipients, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, pregnant women with heart disease and people with severe respiratory conditions such as cystic fibrosis and severe asthma. I have brittle asthma which is otherwise known as severe asthma.
Since March, those who are classed “vulnerable” and in my case “extremely vulnerable”, have been told that we are at severe risk should we catch the Coronavirus. So we have had to stay inside to minimise all risks of catching this when the infection rates were so high. Measures were eased slightly for those who were vulnerable, but for anyone like me classes as “extremely vulnerable”, we have had to carry on shielding.
Changes introduced from 6th July
From 6 July, we were told that we could meet up to six people outdoors and form ‘support bubbles’ with other households while maintaining social distancing rules. I personally started to go for short walks not leaving my road for long but didn’t want to start meeting anyone in groups straightaway. I had only just been allowed to socialise with my housemates, who I have lived with during the whole of lockdown.
The measures have been eased because according to the Government, the infection rates are falling. Yet, we re-emerge into a world which has changed significantly. One where the infection rate seems to be going back up, people are being subject to local lockdowns, and we do not know the true sentiment of the country other than what we have seen played out on the news and on social media.
On one hand, the days of being confined to the house, not being able to go to the shops or visit friends are over. However, being suddenly allowed out in the world and to go back out to work with no transition phase is incredibly overwhelming.
So when we come out of shielding this weekend. Please be patient with us. We haven’t even started to create a new normal for ourselves, and our anxiety will be really high.
So, what is changing from 1 August?
“Extremely vulnerable people” who are classed most at risk from becoming ill from coronavirus will no longer need to shield in England from today.
That means we can return to work, if we can’t work from home, as long as the workplace is COVID secure.
It means those shielding will no longer be eligible for statutory sick pay. Unless someone is to develop coronavirus symptoms, or someone they know develops symptoms, and they are told to self-isolate and cannot work from home.
Support packages will now end
Support packages will remain until the end of July to help people transition. However, these will now come to an end. ReducedpPayments for priority slots will now be re-adjusted so that they are the same as all deliveries from 3rd August (Tesco).
Free essential food boxes will stop being delivered. Support from NHS volunteers and local councils is still possible. Croydon council have been amazing throughout this process. Not only have I received calls from the NHS and Croydon Council. I have received letters telling me where I can go for help. I received two emergency NHS deliveries when we first went into lockdown. Before securing TESCO priority slots and cancelled this.
Fortunately, I still qualify for priority slots for online shopping. All of my medical appointments have been done via the phone, including my latest hospital review. I know my asthma so well. I know what to ask for should I become unwell.
Government official guidelines:
The UK government says that shielding can be paused due to the infection rate being reduced. One in 1,700 people is estimated to have the virus now, down from 1 in 500 four weeks ago.
The guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable is that shielding has been paused.
- do not need to follow previous shielding advice
- 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
- can go outside as much as you like but you should still try to keep your overall social interactions low
- can visit businesses, such as supermarkets, pubs and shops while keeping 2 metres away from others wherever possible or 1 metre, plus other precautions
- should continue to wash your hands carefully and more frequently than usual
- maintain thorough cleaning of frequently touched areas in your home and/or workspace
- will no longer receive free food parcels, medicine deliveries and basic care from the National Shielding Service
For practical tips on staying safe, see the guidance on how to stay safe outside your home.
You will still be able to get:
- local volunteer support by contacting your local authority
- prescriptions, essential items and food you buy delivered by NHS Volunteer Responders
- priority slots for supermarket deliveries (if you previously registered for free food parcels)
Work and employment
You can go to work as long as the workplace is COVID-secure. Although the guidance on the website says that we should carry on working from home wherever possible. Now this Government advice is completely different from what they are saying on daily briefings. It’s this ambiguity that has caused so many problems with workplace disputes. A company legally needs to carry out a risk assessment under health and safety guidelines. When you return to the workplace, they should make you feel reassured about how they have made the workplace secure.
Asthma UK have provided links for career advice for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland:
Returning to work in Scotland – which includes a workplace risk assessment tool
Your employer can be asked to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to make sure that you’re not substantially disadvantaged in the workplace. These could include changing your working hours or providing equipment to help you carry out your job.
You should talk to your employer about reasonable adjustments before you apply for Access to Work.
Access to Work
If you need support to work at home or in the workplace, you can apply for Access to Work.
Access to Work will provide support for the disability-related extra costs of working that are beyond standard reasonable adjustments an employer must provide.
Acas gives employees and employers free, impartial advice on workplace rights, rules and best practice. Either visit the Acas website or call the Acas helpline, 0300 123 1100.
“Shielding” is Government Advice, rather than law, which has caused so many problems for people nationwide. However, your employer has a duty of care legally to protect you in the workplace. If the workplace poses as a “severe risk” to your health, which it has been to those most vulnerable. You are able to refuse to enter the workplace. However, not that this risk has been downgraded. We are now able to resume work as long as safety precautions have been put in place.
If you have concerns, you can raise them with:
- your workplace union
- the Health and Safety Executive or your local authority
Shielding during lockdown
I have documented my journey in my Lockdown Diaries under my blog. It has been an incredibly scary time for many of us. I first learned about COVID-19 through social media. Disturbed by the tweets and YouTube posts coming out of China, and then Italy.
As soon as news of the Coronavirus first hit the UK. Deaths announced in the media were first tagged with the phrase, the person suffered from “underlying health issues”. People like me that is. We now know that this virus does not discriminate. Although some people will be more vulnerable than others and will need to remain vigilant.
What shielding has been like for us all
Shielding has been a unifying experience. We have set up Zoom calls and chatted to both friends and family using Facebook Rooms or FaceTime. Both my housemates and my road set up our own Whatsapp group.
Yet it has also proved to be a divisive one. Between those who want to remain vigilant, wear face masks, not go out in groups. Versus those who refuse to wear masks, are partying at the weekend in large groups and think that this won’t ever happen to them. I think you know which camp I fall into.
So I come out of shielding this weekend. To a brave new world, with face masks, social distancing, and re-entering the workplace. Some people have been empathetic towards me shielding. Others not so much. Many people have not understood shielding at all.
While we are all on our own personal journey navigating our way through this pandemic and all have our own opinions about how to behave. Please be patient with all of us who are coming out of shielding this weekend. We have been in lockdown for so long, the transition might prove to be a difficult one.