Due to the identification of a new variant of COVID-19 which is more transmissible than the variant that has been prevalent there is a heightened level of risk for ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ (CEV) people.
The Northern Ireland Executive has put restrictions in place to help limit the spread of the virus:
These restrictions will mean that CEV people will be protected from exposure to COVID-19 across a wide range of settings.
In addition to these restrictions, if you are CEV you are advised to avoid going to the shops, or to the pharmacy if at all possible.
Ask friends, family or volunteers to collect shopping and medicines for you.
If you must, go at quieter time and adhere rigidly to the safety guidance when you do so:
- stick to social distancing guidelines
- use your face covering at all times unless you are exempt
- try to spend as little time as possible in an indoor setting, where ventilation is likely to be less good
This is not a return to shielding as it was previously. You’re not being advised to stay permanently indoors and are encouraged to continue to go outside for exercise, as long as you observe social distancing when you do so.
CEV people who are working and are unable to do so from home are advised not to attend the workplace.
This advice will be in place until 1 April, and will be reviewed by 16 March in line with thepathway out of restrictions agreed by the Executive.
This is advice only. You can make your own judgements about whether or not you should attend work, depending on the COVID-security of your working environment. However, the general restrictions which apply to everyone must be followed.
This advice applies to clinically extremely vulnerable individuals only.
Others living in a household with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable are not advised to follow it, but should continue to stringently follow the guidance on social distancing, face coverings and hand hygiene.
The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) has written to CEV people to advise of this change. Anyone who cannot attend work due to this advice and who is unable to work from home is eligible to apply for support, such as Statutory Sick Pay, Employment Support Allowance or Universal Credit.
Your employer may be able to make furlough arrangements under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has been extended until the end of April 2021.
The letter from CMO is evidence for employers that you are considered clinically extremely vulnerable in relation to Covid-19 and advised not to attend the workplace. There is no need to get a fit note from your GP.
Information and advice for employers and employees on COVID-19 and working safely across a range of workplace settings is available on the nibusinessinfo website.
If you have any concerns about your safety in the workplace, you are encouraged to discuss these with your employer or human resources department.
They will be best placed to advise on appropriate measures for your particular role and workplace at this time, including, for example, if there might be scope to re-design your role, change your working pattern or location, or reduce contact with others.
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 or call 0800 0320 121 to speak to someone about it.
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).
In addition, 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.
- limit household contacts and keep the number of social interactions that you have low - the fewer social interactions you have, the lower your risk of catching COVID-19
- follow social distancing guidelines
- wash your hands well and often and avoid touching your face particularly after touching hard surfaces which others may have been in contact with
- use a face covering and encourage others to do so too
In terms of what is best for you as an individual, you should assess the risk in light of the above and take advice from your GP, clinician/specialist Consultant as necessary.
If you need to travel, walk or cycle if you can. For longer journeys, or if you are unable to walk or cycle, try to minimise the number of people you come into close contact with.
Avoid public transport as much as possible or consider travelling outside peak hours to reduce the number of people with whom you come into contact. If you need to use public transport, you must wear a face covering unless you are exempt and wash your hands after touching shared hard surfaces.
Travelling by car is likely to mean fewer social contacts than travelling by public transport. You should avoid sharing a car with people outside of your immediate household or support bubble.
Pupils previously shielding or with a family member who was previously shielding due to being identified as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ can continue to go to school.
This is also the case for those who are ‘vulnerable’ to COVID-19. If you have concerns about this, you may wish to speak with your GP or hospital consultant. Their advice can be shared with the school if you wish. The school can then determine if it needs to take any additional actions to reduce the risk further.
A small number of children will be advised by their clinical team not to attend an educational setting. The vast majority of these children would routinely be advised not to attend school even outside pandemic period due to the risk of infections other than COVID-19.
Further guidance is available in the Department of Educations' guidance for education settings. Sections 6 and 7 of the guidance includes information on supporting clinically extremely vulnerable staff and children in the school setting.
If you're 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:
- Freephone telephone number: 0800 917 0222
- Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about this service visit the Patient Client Council website
Mental Health Support
This is a difficult time for many people and may be particularly worrying for those who have an underlying condition which means they are more clinically vulnerable to COVID-19.
If you are finding things difficult, there are a range of supports available which can help. These resources are designed to help promote positive mental health and wellbeing both during and after the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The Minding Your Head contains information to help you look after your own mental health and to support others.
Tailored information and self-help guides from local mental health and wellbeing charities are available at the COVID-19 Virtual Wellbeing Hub.
If you've concerns about your health or mental wellbeing, you should speak to your GP.
If you're 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.
The Public Health Agency (PHA) has published a leaflet 'Take 5 steps to wellbeing’ which offers tips on supporting your mental and emotional wellbeing while staying at home during the current COVID-19 outbreak.
It sets out a practical framework around five steps:
- be active
- take notice
Loneliness and Isolation
Feeling lonely or disconnected is a natural reaction to the current coronavirus pandemic, and it’s important that you don’t blame yourself for feelings of loneliness, at this or any other time.
Advice – Let's Talk Loneliness provides practical advice on how to help others or yourself if you are feeling lonely.
If you feel unable to take these steps, you can also contact one of the helplines.
You can read guidance on looking after your mental health and wellbeing during this time on the COVID Wellbeing NI website.
COVID-19 Community Helpline
A freephone helpline is available to help those in vulnerable groups to access information, advice and support in relation to COVID-19. 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: