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Shielding: What is the latest advice?

What is the current advice on shielding?

Letters have been sent to all those who are shielding from their GP on behalf of the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Michael McBride.    The letter is summarised below.   If you are shielding and have not received a letter, contact your GP.  The below information was accurate as of 01 July 2020

When can I stop shielding?

After 31 July, if the risk of COVID-19 remains low, you will not have to shield.

  • You must continue to follow public health advice and remain strict about practicing social distancing and washing your hands
  • Where possible, avoid enclosed spaces where is it hard to practice social distancing – e.g. public transport and shops
  • Even though the risk of coming into contact with the virus is much lower, you still need to be careful because you remain more vulnerable than the general population.

Can I meet up with people before 31 July?

From 06 Julythose people required to shield will be able to meet up to six people outside their homes, as long as social distancing is strictly maintained.

If you are shielding alone, you can also form a support bubble with one other household.  Where you form a bubble:

  • social distancing is not required with the other household in your bubble; this will allow you to visit, stay over and spend more time with the second household;
  • the second household can be of any size; and 
  • both households should not be part of more than one bubble and should continue to socially distance outside the bubble.

You can find more information on support bubbles here

Where can I get day-to-day support?

Until 31 July:  Help with food – your local council will continue to distribute food boxes for those in need until 31 July.  Priority online food delivery is also available until then. Visit here to register.

After 31 July:  The COVID-19 Community Helpline will remain open after 31 July.    They can connect you to other means of support, including local volunteer supported shopping and local or community food support organisations.  Support with medicine delivery will also still be available after 31 July.

Contact the community helpline on  0808 802 0020, Email:  covid19@adviceni.net, Text: ACTION to 81025 or visit the Advice NI website.

Is support available for mental health and wellbeing?

If you’re feeling anxious or worried there a range of tools available online to help with this:

www.mindingyourhead.info   This website contains information to help you look after your own mental health and to support others.  It contains:

  • A directory of mental health services in Northern Ireland
  • Links to online support such as the HSC Apps Library (safe and approved apps for you to download for support with issues)
  • Free online Stress Control classes

www.covidwellbeingni.info  This website provides tailored information and self-help guides from local mental health and wellbeing charities. These resources are designed to help promote positive mental health and wellbeing both during and after the COVID-19 Pandemic.

  • You can still contact your GP if you are in distress or despair
  • You can call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000 where you can speak to a trained counsellor.  This service is available 24/7 and is free from all NI landlines and mobiles.

What do I do about going back to work?

The need to shield may have meant you could not go to work, or you had to work from home.   You may have been furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or may have been in receipt of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). 

  • If it has been possible for you to work from home while shielding, you should continue to do this. 
  • If your employer has taken the proper measures to ensure social distancing in your place of work, and you can travel to work in a way which allows for social distancing, the fact that you have been shielding is not by itself a reason not to return to work.
  • If your workplace cannot follow guidance on social distancing at work or you cannot travel to work in a way which allows for social distancing, you should tell your employer you need to follow government advice and that you must stay at home until it is possible for you to observe social distancing both at work and during travel to work. 
  • If you have concerns about social distancing in your workplace or require further information you can visit the Health and Safety Executive (HSENI)’s website www.hseni.gov.uk or call 0800 0320 121 to speak to someone about it.
  • If you have been furloughed, you should speak to your employer about your particular circumstances and whether it is appropriate for your furloughing arrangement to continue.   Full guidance on the scheme is available here  
  • If you have been receiving SSP as a person who is shielding, after 31 July, you will no longer automatically be entitled to this. 
  • If you feel that there are other reasons why you cannot return to work, you should discuss these with your doctor and your employer.
  • You should be aware that if you refuse to attend work without a valid reason, it could result in disciplinary action.  However, employers must be especially careful and take reasonable steps for anyone in their workforce who is in a vulnerable group.
  • Your doctor cannot deal with employment issues for you

What if I have a disagreement with my employer?

  • Where you find that you have a disagreement with your employer, which you are unable to resolve, you should consider contacting the Labour Relations Agency (LRA).
  • The LRA Workplace Information Service is available on 03300 555 300 for free, confidential and impartial information.  More useful information is also available here.
  • The Law Centre NI provides free, independent, specialist legal advice on employment rights and has established a dedicated COVID 19 response team for COVID 19 related employment rights matters.  The Law Centre can be contacted on their advice line on 028 9024 4401 or by email: employmentadvice@lawcentreni.org
  • Further information about COVID 19 and working can be found on NI Business Info here

How do I get childcare for returning to work?

If you are planning a return to work, you may need some help to arrange childcare.  For the latest advice and links to support, you should visit NI Direct – advice about childcare

Where do I get financial assistance?

  • Depending on your circumstances, financial assistance is available to those impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak through Universal Credit, new style Job seekers allowance and new style Employment support allowance.  Further information can be found at NI Direct – Benefits and Financial Support.
  • Anyone who finds themselves in in a crisis situation can apply to the Discretionary Support scheme for assistance with short-term living expenses.  Further details on Discretionary Support including the new Discretionary Support COVID-19 Living Expenses Grant are available at NI Direct – Extra financial support

We have written this article with FactCheckNI

  • FactCheckNI have a full Q&A article on their website about shielding with references and further information – you can access it here
  • We have also another article on what is shielding – you can access it here.