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NI Chief Medical Officer McBride sends out 'roadmap' to end shielding for thousands

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Michael McBride believes shielding could end this month

Michael McBride believes shielding could end this month

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Michael McBride believes shielding could end this month

Fresh advice is being issued to the thousands of people in Northern Ireland who are currently shielding due to coronavirus as restrictions begin to ease.

The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) has written to the 80,000 people here who are shielding and paid tribute to the "huge demands" the pandemic has placed on them in particular.

Dr Michael McBride writes that as a result of "our combined efforts, the risk of coming into contact with Covid 19 in Northern Ireland is now much lower.

"If the risk continues to remain low, assessment is that, from 31 July 2020, you will no longer need to follow the current shielding advice".

The five page letter sets out the interim easements from July 6 - which states that those who are following the shielding advice will be able to meet up to six people outside of their home as long as social distancing is "strictly observed".

Those who has been shielding have been unable to avail of any of the easing of lockdown restrictions in recent weeks.

The latest correspondence sets out what happens after July 31 - that providing the Covid-19 risk remains low this group will no longer have to shield and their "personal lockdown" will no longer apply.

Dr McBride says: "However you must continue to follow public health advice at all times and be really strict about social distancing and washing your hands.

"Even though the risk of coming into contact with the virus is much lower, you still need to be careful because you remain more vulnerable than the general population. So you must follow the advice that is given to people who are deemed generally vulnerable, for example people with asthma or people over 70."

The letter acknowledges the period of adjustment that may be required and offers advice and mental health support.

The Department of Health had been urged to provide information in terms of work and employers. The CMO now states that if it has been possible to work from home they should continue to do that.

He adds: "However, if your employer has taken the proper measures to ensure social distancing in your place of work, and you can travel to work in a way which allows for social distancing, the fact that you have been shielding is not by itself a reason not to return to work".

However the advice states if your workplace cannot follow guidance on social distancing or you can't travel in a safe way - "you should tell your employer you need to follow government advice and that you must stay at home until it is possible for you to observe social distancing both at work and during travel to work".

It adds: "You should be aware that if you refuse to attend work without a valid reason, it could result in disciplinary action.

"However employers must be especially careful and take reasonable steps for anyone in their workforce who is in a vulnerable group."

Dr McBride says he will only write again if his assessment of the situation changes.

He adds: "The Covid 19 pandemic has made huge demands on all of us, but perhaps most of all those who have been shielding. I am grateful to you for the part that you have played, and I wish you well for the weeks and months ahead."

Belfast Telegraph