• Shielding guidance set to cease at end of July along with some of the support put in place
  • Decision comes as the levels of the virus circulating in the community are now low enough to allow people respite from strict isolation

The government is set to cease its ‘shielding’ programme for those at highest risk from coronavirus at the end of July, HSJ has learned.

According to sources close to the issue, more than 2 million people classed as extremely vulnerable to covid-19 are set to be told that from the end of July they no longer need to isolate at home.

This also means that food packages and medicine deliveries for these people will be ended, although priority for online food shopping is likely to remain. It is unclear if any additional help will be offered to those people who cannot access the internet.

HSJ understands the decision was made as the levels of the virus circulating in the community are now low enough to allow people to be given some respite from the strict isolation rules.

The government will maintain the shielding list, which has been beset with problems, in case they need to ask people to shield again in the autumn and winter months if a resurgence of the virus is seen.

It is expected people who are currently listed as extremely clinically vulnerable - such as those with severe respiratory disease, organ transplants and some types of cancer - will be asked to follow the guidance issued to a much larger population of people seen as only “clinically vulnerable”.

This second level of guidance, aimed at those who are normally eligible for a flu jab on the NHS, has caused concern previously, with many elderly people believing it meant they were also not to leave their house. It is not yet clear whether this guidance will be amended or improved, or if so, by what date.

An official government announcement on shielding is expected shortly, with letters to those who are shielding due to be sent out next week.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which is leading the programme, told HSJ: ”We’ve always said we will be looking at making life easier for those having to shield, when it is safe to do so. We are considering the next steps for the shielding programme beyond the end of June, based on the latest medical and scientific advice. No final decision has yet been made and we will set out more detail shortly.”

Earlier this month Scotland and Wales announced their own plans for people who are shielding, asking those affected to continue to shield until the end of July and mid-August respectively.

This article was updated at 19:14 on 16 June 2020, to reflect the position of the devolved nations and to include a comment from the government.