Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for vulnerable people

Coronavirus (COVID-19) can cause mild symptoms. But for older people and those with an underlying health condition, it can be more serious. This page has guidance on how vulnerable people and those advised to shield by a GP can reduce the risk of getting coronavirus and access help and support.

People considered vulnerable

People over the age of 70 are considered vulnerable, even if they do not have an underlying health condition. This also applies to those who are pregnant.

Others considered vulnerable include people who have are under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (i.e. for adults this usually is anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):

Those with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19 should continue to stay at home as much as possible to protect themselves.  However, you are allowed to meet with others outside your home, or have visitors indoors, in line with the most recent changes to the Coronavirus regulations.

If you choose to leave your home or meet with others, you should be particularly careful to adhere to social distancing guidelines and other guidance to reduce your risk.

COVID-19 Community Helpline

A freephone helpline to help those in vulnerable groups to access information, advice and support in relation to COVID-19 is open 9.00 am to 5.00pm, Monday to Friday.

The helpline is local to Northern Ireland, and is managed by Advice NI.

  • freephone number:  0808 802 0020

You can also get in touch by email and text message or webform:

Advice for a vulnerable person staying at home

Everyone should continue to stay at home as much as possible and follow social distancing measures when you leave your home or meet with others.

Older people and vulnerable people, including those with underlying health conditions and pregnant women, should be particularly strict when following them.

If you know an older or vulnerable person who has been advised to self-isolate, is worried about going out or decides they’d prefer not to, there are still plenty of things you can do to help, including:

  • staying in touch over the phone
  • checking if they need any shopping or help
  • encourage others to stay in contact
  • encourage them to keep active by moving around the house or spending time in the garden/ outdoor area

Vulnerable persons receiving care

Vulnerable people may include those receiving domiciliary care or those living in nursing and residential care homes. Guidance for these settings is available from the Public Health Agency website.

If you are worried about your health and social care during COVID-19 the Patient and Client Council offer a Freephone support service, supporting you with any questions, concerns or complaints you may have.

Advisors will be able to help you to navigate your care should it be affected by the new pressures being faced by the Health Service during COVID-19. Contact details are below:

For more information about this service visit the Patient Client Council website

Advice for extremely vulnerable people (shielding)

There is guidance for people, including children, who are at high risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) because of an underlying health condition, and for their family, friends and carers.

Getting help with food, medicines and essential services, supplies

If you have received a letter from your GP and been asked to shield during the pandemic and you do not have family, friends and neighbours to support you and need help with obtaining food, medicines and essential services, supplies you can contact the COVID-19 Community helpline (contact details above). 

An adviser will talk through your situation to fully understand your need and to see what support is available to you, including local volunteers who can collect shopping or medicines, or local community groups and food banks who can provide support.  

Your information will be passed to partners in the Health Trusts and / or local councils/ community support.

  • Consumer Council – includes information on delivery services including an interactive map to help you find local businesses.
  • Community NI

Getting help with food

Register for a Priority online food delivery

If you do not have arrangements in place with family or friends or wider support to help meet your needs, during this pandemic you can register for a priority online food delivery.

How to help reduce the risk of getting coronavirus

Everyone should continue to stay at home as much as possible, and following social distancing measures when meeting others. 

Another important thing you can do to reduce the risk of infection for yourself and the people around you is to wash your hands, frequently and thoroughly, with soap and hot water.

You should also make sure you catch coughs or sneezes with a tissue or your sleeve – not your hands – and put used tissues in the bin. Then wash your hands. Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Medicines and COVID-19

There is no need for you to do anything new or different when ordering or taking your medicines.

People should order prescriptions and take their medicines as normal.
Extra supplies should not be ordered from your doctor.

Stockpiling or buying medication that you do not need is unnecessary and could disadvantage other people.

How to stay safe when accepting help from others

If you are receiving voluntary help do not share financial details like credit/debit card numbers or personal information.

If someone you don’t know calls at your home, always ask for ID and always ensure you are comfortable sharing details like your phone number or address.

Only provide information on a need to know basis and if you have seen ID. Do not feel pressured into providing information.

If you have doubts about those who are approaching you, and are concerned, it is advised that you don’t engage, and report serious suspicious behaviour to the police.

Remember that genuine volunteers have been instructed not to enter your home.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): communication aids for people with dementia

Aphasia Friendly has created conversation topic cards which can be used to help communicate with people who have dementia about coronavirus.

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