TWO MILLION vulnerable people who have been shielding from coronavirus can reunite with loved ones from next month.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said infection rates are now so low that it will be safe for them to gather outside in groups of up to six people.
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Two million people who have been shielding in England will be allowed to see loved ones when lockdown rules ease next month[/caption]
Those who live alone or are in a single parent family will also be able to form a social bubble with another household of any size.
The Health Secretary said the new guidelines will come into effect in England on Monday, July 6.
It comes as the number of people infected has plummeted from 1 in 500 people four weeks ago to fewer than 1 in 1,700 now.
The guidelines will be relaxed further from August 1, when people on the high-risk list will be told they no longer need to shield.
This will allow them to enter shops and places of worship and attend work if it is Covid-secure and they cannot work from home.
Those included on the “clinically extremely vulnerable” include people with severe respiratory disease, organ transplants and some types of cancer.
Mr Hancock said: “We knew it was a difficult ask, but these measures have been vital in saving lives.
“Now, with infection rates continuing to fall in our communities, our medical experts have advised that we can now ease some of these measures, while keeping people safe.”
Current guidance says: “If you’re clinically extremely vulnerable, you’re strongly advised to stay at home as much as possible and keep visits outside to a minimum (for instance once per day).”
They are told to avoid indoor spaces and large groups and to stay 2 metres from people outside of their household.
From July 6, they will be able to meet in groups of six people as long as they observe usual social distancing rules.
They will also be able to leave their home to exercise as much as they like.
Those forming support bubbles can treat everyone within the group as part of the same household.
NHS volunteers and local councils will continue to provide support beyond July to people who have been shielding.
They will still be able to access supermarket priority delivery and get help with drugs and transport to appointments.
The government will write to people on the list to inform them of the changes.
Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick said: ”I want to reassure everyone that we will continue to deliver the unprecedented package of support including food and medicine deliveries until the end of July.
“You will be sent information that will explain what support is available after that, you will not be on your own.”
Whilst clinically extremely vulnerable people should continue to follow strict social distancing measures, they will be able to participate in more activities such as visiting shops and places of worship.
Those who need to work and cannot do so from home will be able to return to work as long as their workplace is Covid secure.
Risk continues to fall
It comes as the latest scientific evidence shows the chances of encountering the virus in the community continue to fall.
Across England, the Covid reproduction number is currently 0.7 to 0.9 – down from 0.7 to 1 last week, according to the latest figures from Sage.
Britain’s Covid-19 alert level was downgraded from 4 to 3 last week, paving the way for the relaxation of the two-metre rule.
It is the right time to relax some of the advice so people can start to regain a degree of normality once more in their daily lives
Dr Jenny Harries, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said: “Shielding was introduced to safeguard those who, at the start of the epidemic in the UK, were thought to be most clinically vulnerable in our communities.
“We know how difficult this period has been and the impact shielding has had on many people’s mental health.
“The prevalence of the virus in the community is now lower and chances of getting infected are reduced, so we believe it is the right time to relax some of the advice so people can start to regain a degree of normality once more in their daily lives.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has thanked the 2.2 million people who have been shielding in England since the start of the coronavirus crisis[/caption]
“People should continue to follow social distancing guidance when outside their homes, as well as frequently washing their hands, to minimise the risk of becoming infected.
“We will continue to monitor the evidence closely and adjust the advice accordingly if there are any changes in the rates of infection that could impact on this group.”
Mr Hancock also thanked the 2.2 million people in England who have been shielding since the country went into lockdown on March 23.
He said: “I want to thank all those who have been shielding for so many weeks for their commitment to the shielding programme.
“I know this has been incredibly tough.
“Shielding has involved not leaving your house for months, not seeing people you care about, not being able to wander to the park for some fresh air, or even pop to the shops for something you need.
“This sacrifice has been for a purpose, and I want to thank every single one of you.”
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The Department of Health said on average less than 1 in 1,700 are estimated to have the virus in the community, down from 1 in 500 four weeks ago.
Those who have been shielding will stay on the NHS patient list to ensure we continue to provide the best advice to those identified as clinically extremely vulnerable.
Should the level of the disease in the community rise in the future it may be necessary to advise that more restrictive measures should be taken in order for those at highest risk to keep themselves safe.