Blanket restrictions on nearly two million people told to shield due to the coronavirus will be reviewed in a bid to create “more stratified” guidance, according to England’s deputy chief medical officer.
At the start of the lockdown, 1.8 million people in England were asked to stay indoors for 12 weeks as they were considered most at risk from Covid-19.
Speaking at the Downing Street daily briefing, Dr Jenny Harries said officials were “trying to review” the restrictive rules “because we do recognise that asking somebody to stay shielded … for a very long period of time … is quite a difficult thing for them to do.”
Dr Harries told reporters that experts were looking at the measures in two different ways, including adapting existing services and “looking at those risks again now we have more information to try and build a better, more stratified picture”.
Communities minister Robert Jenrick also acknowledged the “huge emotional impact” shielding was having on those affected.
He said the Government is considering more long-term plans and told the briefing that local councils have been sent lists of shielded people so they can provide “more tailored support”, and a “check in and chat” service is being developed.
The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) said it was not involved in lockdown discussions, but argued age alone was not a “sophisticated criteria” on which to base decisions on who should self-isolate and for how long in the future.
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: “People of all ages have a wide range of capabilities and are subject to various risk factors, of which their age is one, that might affect their health and how they respond to Covid-19.
“Asking any individual to undertake strict isolation measures is already a significant ask that will undoubtedly have some impact on their physical and mental health.
“GPs are finding that many patients who are currently ‘shielding’ are expressing concern about their ability to continue extreme isolation for a long period, and this needs to be taken into account as plans for how the lockdown will continue are formulated.”
He said doctors could only “strongly advocate” that patients follow official guidance, but could not “mandate” action.
On Tuesday, the mother of a vulnerable child asked the Health Secretary Matt Hancock whether shielding was the only option before a vaccine was developed.
The question was posed by a woman called Sadie, whose 10-year-old son has cystic fibrosis and autism.
Mr Hancock said that the safest thing for people in the shielded category to do is to stay at home and be “protected from all contact”.
Medical conditions that place someone at greatest risk of severe illness from Covid-19 include specific cancers, severe respiratory conditions such as cystic fibrosis and asthma, rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections.