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Clarity call as medical chief issues letters to NI shielders

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Information: Alex Easton

Information: Alex Easton

Information: Alex Easton

New shielding letters are being sent out this week with the latest guidance for people who are most vulnerable to Covid-19.

However, officials are currently working to develop further guidance which is to be issued to people who are shielding within the next fortnight, it has emerged.

A letter from Northern Ireland's chief medical officer (CMO) Dr Michael McBride is being sent out to 80,000 people this week which warns that anyone who has already been advised to shield is still "extremely clinically vulnerable to Covid-19".

However, a drop in infection levels in the community means that anyone who is shielding can now go outdoors, but they must strictly adhere to social distancing measures and avoid crowds or gatherings of people.

The updated shielding guidance applies until June 30 and Dr McBride has said further guidance will be provided before the end of the month.

Officials are facing calls to provide clarity to people who are shielding, particularly amid reports that some people are coming under pressure to return to work, while concerns have also been raised by younger people who are shielding about the effects the protection measures are having on their children.

DUP MLA Alex Easton, a member of the Stormont health committee, said any further letters advising people to shield must include more information for patients and employers.

"I would like more clarity around shielding in general," he said. "My father, who is diabetic and has lost both legs as a result, didn't receive a letter, so I think that the letters need to include a lot more information.

"I would like to see the letters include a booklet with a list of conditions and medication that mean patients should shield. There should also be specific information for employers because I have been contacted by people who have been told to shield and they are being expected to work.

"I think the majority of employers have been very understanding, but the longer this goes on, the more challenging it is going to be for those who are shielding.

"The next letter should include detailed information for employers about why it is so important that anyone who is shielding should take the precautions that is being sent out by the CMO."

People who have been deemed as falling to the highest clinical risk group, and have therefore been told to shield, include anyone who has had an organ transplant, cancer patients, people with motor neurone disease and anyone with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.

In the letters being sent out to people this week, Dr McBride explained: "I know that this has been a very challenging time for you and that it will not always have been easy to comply with the advice.

"The Covid-19 virus still poses a high risk if someone who is shielding is exposed to it. However, infection levels in the community are now falling so the risk of exposure is significantly less than it has been over the last two months.

"Because the risk is lower, I have now updated the guidance for Northern Ireland so that from June 8 those who are shielding can now spend time outside with people from their own household or one person from another household whilst ensuring that social distancing is observed.

"I know that you will want to know about our plans for the future of the shielding advice. Please be assured that we are actively reviewing the shielding advice and we will provide new guidance before the end of the first shielding period."

Dr McBride is also asking anyone who is shielding to take part in an engagement process which will help advise government policy on shielding in the months ahead.

He added: "Finally, I wanted to thank you for all of your efforts during this very difficult time.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has made huge demands on many people across Northern Ireland, and I want you to know that we understand the uncertainty and upheaval that those shielding, their families and carers in particular have faced."

Belfast Telegraph