Coronavirus: What does shielding mean?

Find out more about shielding, who it applies to, and what to do if you're a shielder.
Old man sitting down

National lockdown

To help stop the spread of coronavirus, the government is advising everyone to stay at home from 5 January 2021. 

If you have been told that you are at high are at high-risk from COVID-19  (clinically extremely vulnerable) you should not attend work, school, college or university, and limit the time you spend outside the home. You should only go out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential.

This page will be updated once further guidance is available. To check the latest Government guidance please visit Gov.uk.

Understanding what to do if you are at high risk

What does shielding mean if you are at high risk for COVID-19? 

People who are defined as clinically extremely vulnerable are at very high risk of severe illness from COVID-19. People who fall into this category will have been advised to ‘shield’. This word is used to describe how people at high-risk should protect themselves by not leaving their homes and minimising all face-to-face contact. 

How do I know if I am clinically extremely vulnerable?   

On 15 February, as a result of the introduction of new assessment software, more people were added to the Shielded Patients List (SPL). The software considered a number of factors to identify who was most at risk. Although many people who were added to the list would have already been contacted about vaccination because of their age, 820,000 adults between 19 and 69 years will now be prioritised for a vaccination and asked to book an appointment.

If you have been advised that you are clinically extremely vulnerable this will be because: 

  • you have one or more conditions that put you at risk of serious illness if you catch COVID-19, or 
  • your clinician or GP has added you to the Shielded Patient List because, based on their clinical judgement, they deem to you be at higher risk. 

If you are in this group, you will have received a letter from the NHS or from your GP telling you this. You may have been advised to shield in the past. 

If you want to find out more about the factors that can make you clinically extremely vulnerable, read the Government guidance.  

Find out more

What should I do if I have been told I am at high-risk? 

If you're at high risk from COVID-19, the Government have advised that you:  

  • do not go to work, school, college or university 
  • limit the time you spend outside your home 

  • only go out for medical appointments, exercise or for essential reasons 

  • keep all contact with other people to a minimum

What support is available to me?

If you have been advised that ou are clinically extremely vulnerable, you may be able to access a range of support including:

Getting food and shopping

You are advised not to go to shops or pharmacies. Instead try:

Get help from the NHS Responders

The NHS Responders are still helping people by collecting and delivering food, medications and essential supplies. 

0808 196 3646

Find out more

Medical help and appointments

NHS services have made changes to ensure it's safe for you to get the medical help that you need. It's important to:

  • get medical help if you think you need it - call NHS 111 if you are in need of medical help, or 999 in an emergency
  • keep any appointments or procedures you have booked - unless you are told not to attend
  • go to hospital if you are advised to
  • access services from home where possible - use the NHS health at home website
  • Know that carers or visitors that support you with our needs can continue to visit. 

Find out more about using NHS services

Work

You should work from home if you can and your employer should support you to do this. If you cannot work from home, you are advised not to go to work. You can use your shielding letter as proof you are unable to work. If you are unable to work, you may be eligible for: 

Find out more about financial support

School, university and college

Anyone who is shielding should not attend school, college or university. Your school, college or university should ensure you can learn from home.  

Doctors have reviewed all children and young people who were originally classified as clinically extremely vulnerable in light of the new knowledge that very few young people are at highest risk of severe illness from the virus. If you are unsure whether your child should be shielding this time, your doctor will be able to confirm. 

Staying physically and mentally well

It is important to stay healthy despite shielding and staying in touch with people by phone, post or online can help.  

Here are some places that you can go to get support that’s right for you:

We've also put together some advice on how to look after your mental health during this time. 

Read more

Frequently asked questions

The following Q&A, based on information provided by the Government, aims to help you get some of the answers you need to know about what shielding means in practice.

What does ‘shielding’ mean? 

Shielding is the word used to describe how to protect those at highest risk of severe illness if they catch COVID-19. You can shield yourself following the Government guidance, and shield others by minimising all interaction between yourself and those who are most at risk.

What should I do if I think I should be classed as clinically extremely vulnerable but have not been advised to shield?

If you have not received a letter or been contacted by your GP or hospital consultant, but feel you are within the high-risk category, you should contact your GP practice or hospital team.  

If you are unsure, check the list on the Gov.uk website to see if you are in the most at risk/ extremely vulnerable group. 

How long is the shielding guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people going to last? 

The advice is now that people should shield until 31 March.  People who are shielding will receive a further letter in mid-March with further advice.

Is the new advice to clinically extremely vulnerable people compulsory? 

There are national restrictions in place which are compulsory for everyone living in England. 

The additional advice to shield for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable continues to be advisory. 

Does my whole house need to shield? 

No, people who live with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable do not need to shield themselves but do need to follow national lockdown rules.  

They should attend work as normal if they are unable to work from home but are advised not to form childcare bubbles during lockdown.  

When will I get my vaccination against COVID-19? 

Clinically extremely vulnerable adults will get priority access to the vaccination. You will be contacted by the NHS with more information on when and how you will be invited to receive the vaccine. 

If I have had my vaccination against COVID-19, do I still have to shield?  

Yes, continue to shield even if you have received both doses of the vaccine. You and the people you live with should continue to follow the public health rules and guidance as long as they are in place, regardless of receiving the vaccine.  

My main carer is unwell – what do I do?

Speak to your carers about back-up plans for your care in case your main carer is unwell or needs to self-isolate.

You should have an alternative list of people who can help you with your care if your main carer becomes unwell. You can also contact your local council, or local Healthwatch, for advice on how to access care.

How can I get vitamin D tablets? 

The Government is extending the free four-month supply to those who are clinically extremely vulnerable to support their general health. You do not need to register for this service if: 

  • You are already taking or prescribed a vitamin D supplement 

  • You are living in a nursing or residential care home 

Register for the supplement 

Can I leave my home if myself or my children are at risk of domestic abuse? 

Yes, you may leave your home to escape domestic abuse. Read our article for more information on domestic abuse during the pandemic

Find out more

Got another question?

To find more detailed answers to these and other questions, read the Government guidance on shielding and protecting people defined on medical grounds as extremely vulnerable from COVID-19. Or contact your local Healthwatch.

Find out more

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