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Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has announced that the 2.2 million people in England who are clinically extremely vulnerable and are shielding from the coronavirus will be advised that they can spend more time outside their homes from the 6th of July.

This announcement comes as COVID-19 infection rates continue to fall and thus the chances of encountering the virus in the community continue to decline.

The UK Government says it worked closely with clinicians, GPs, charities, the voluntary sector and patient groups to consult on these changes and will continue to do so to provide support and advice to those they represent.

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Matt Hancock has confirmed that the people who have been shielding from the virus will be able to spend time outdoors in a group of up to six people, including those outside of their household, while maintaining social distancing.

Those who are shielding and live alone or are single parents with children will also be able to create a ‘support bubble’ with one other household of any size, following the same rules already in place for the wider population.

From the 1st of August, the guidance will then be paused so clinically extremely vulnerable people will no longer be advised to shield, but support will remain available from NHS volunteers and local councils. People will retain their priority for supermarket delivery slots and still be able to access help with shopping, medication, phone calls and transport to medical appointments.

This pausing of measures from August means that clinically extremely vulnerable people in England will be able to return to work as long as their workplace is coronavirus-secure.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jenny Harries, 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.

“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.”

Following this review of the shielding measures, the government will be writing to all individuals on the Shielded Patient List with updated information on shielding advice and the ongoing support that will be available to them.

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