Who is on the shielding list? Why 1.7 million new people have been told to stay at home - and rules explained
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Millions more vulnerable people have been added to the shielding list for protection from Covid-19.
The UK Government has instructed 1.7 million extra people to stay at home in England, while 800,000 of those have been bumped up the vaccine priority list.
The decision came after scientists at Oxford University developed a new model to determine who is most at-risk from the virus.
So, who is shielding now, why has the list been expanded - and when does shielding end in 2021?
This is everything you need to know.
Why was the shielding list extended?
Four million people in total are now shielding in England after the development of the new tool at Oxford University.
The model, known as QCOVID, assesses whether someone is at risk of serious illness or death from coronavirus due to a number of combined factors, instead of a single underlying health condition.
Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), which was involved in the modelling, said these factors were put together to reach a score.
He told BBC Radio 4 that the score could “more or less order people in the population according to their level of risk” and indentify those who should be prioritised for the vaccine.
The new tool has prompted the government to expand the shielding list to include extra people.
A reduced form of shielding was reintroduced at the start of the third national lockdown in January.
Until now, only people with specific health conditions or undergoing certain types of treatment had been told to shield.
Who is on the new shielding list?
The Oxford University model looks at risk identifiers including age, sex, ethnicity, body mass index (BMI) and existing health conditions.
It also looks at deprivation by postcode, as people living in more deprived areas could be at a greater risk from Covid-19 due to cramped housing and being unable to work from home.
Those who have been added to the new shielding list will be informed via letter, and the government has recommended that they follow the rules already in place.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries said those joining the shielding list would get the same support as those who are already considered “clinically extremely vulnerable”.
Who is considered clinically extremely vulnerable?
The 2.2 million people who were already on the shielding list were identified according to a single health reason, like specific cancers, organ transplant recipients and those with severe respiratory conditions.
It also includes people on immunosuppression therapies, those who have problems with their spleen, and adults with Down’s syndrome.
A full list of who is deemed clinically extremely vulnerable can be found on the government’s website.
What does the new list mean for the vaccine?
Around 900,000 people added to the shielding list are aged 70 and over, meaning they should have already been offered the coronavirus vaccine.
That leaves 800,000 people who will now be given priority access to the jab, the government said.
They should soon receive a letter asking them to book an appointment.
However, this means they will receive their vaccine invitation a few weeks later than if they had been added to the original shielding group.
What are the shielding rules?
Those told to shield during the first national lockdown last year were told to stay at home at all times.
Now, people shielding are being advised to be extra cautious and stay inside as much as possible, not attending work, school, college or university.
However, you are permitted to go outdoors for essential reasons like exercise and to attend medical appointments.
Yet you are advised to do your shopping online or to ask family and friends to collect your groceries for you to avoid busy supermarkets.
Those shielding can be given a note to give to their employer and to claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
They can also request help with food and medicine deliveries from an NHS volunteer.
When does shielding end?
The government has proposed a 31 March end date for those shielding.
However, this date could potentially be extended depending on the prevalence of the virus in the country and the risk posed to clinically extremely vulnerable people.