Coronavirus (COVID-19):  guidance for ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ and ‘vulnerable’ people

Everyone in Northern Ireland, regardless of clinical vulnerability, needs to comply with current coronavirus restrictions.  These restrictions aim to manage the spread of Covid-19 here and the pressures on our health and social care system.

Shielding

Shielding for ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ people has been paused since 31 July 2020. The Chief Medical Officer and his team have looked at this position again in light of the increased numbers of cases of Coronavirus in Northern Ireland.

Since shielding was first advised, a number of important changes have taken place in our approach to managing coronavirus and reducing its transmission. This includes a greater awareness of the importance of social distancing, the requirement to use face coverings, Covid secure workplaces and greater adherence to respiratory and hand hygiene.

After careful consideration, the Chief Medical Officer and his team has concluded that shielding should remain paused.  This position will, however, be kept under review and we will not hesitate to update our shielding advice if we need to.

Keeping Safe

If you are ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ or ‘vulnerable’ it is important to continue to be particularly careful in following the advice on limiting household contacts, keeping social distance, hand washing and wearing a face covering.

Wash Hands, Cover Face, Make Space

The steps below provide some practical advice on how to do that:

  • Limit household contacts: Try to 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: The risk of infection increases the closer you are to another person with Covid-19. Try not be too close to people for more than a short period of time, as much as you can
  • Wash your hands well and often: Wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face particularly after touching hard surfaces which others may have been in contact with.  Washing your hands properly is one of the most important things you can do to help prevent and control the spread of many illnesses including Covid-19
  • Use a face covering and encourage others to do so too: face coverings are mainly intended to protect others, rather than the wearer, from Covid-19.  That means you still need to socially distance and wash your hands well and often even when wearing a covering

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.

Travel

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.

Going to shops and pharmacies

Consider shopping or going to the pharmacy at quieter times of the day. You must wear face coverings in all shops unless you are exempt.

You might also want to ask friends, family or volunteers to collect medicines for you.

Work

If it is possible for you to work from home, you should continue to do this. However, 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, you can continue to work.

All employers have a 'duty of care' for staff and, in practice, this means taking all steps they reasonably can to support the health, safety and wellbeing of their staff.

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.

You should be aware that refusing to attend work without a valid reason 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.

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. Further information is available on LRA website.

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. The Law Centre can be contacted on their advice line on 028 9024 4401 or by email.

School

Pupils previously shielding or with a family member who was previously shielding due to being identified as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’  can return to school. 

This is the 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 Education 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. 

Care support

 ‘Vulnerable’ and ‘clinically extremely 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

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. 

The Minding Your Head website contains information to help you look after your own mental health and to support others. 

In addition, tailored information and self-help guides from local mental health and wellbeing charities are available at the Covid-19 Virtual Wellbeing Hub

These resources are designed to help promote positive mental health and wellbeing both during and after the Covid-19 Pandemic.

If you have got concerns about your health or mental wellbeing, you should speak to your GP. Or 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.

COVID-19 Community Helpline

A freephone helpline 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:

More useful links 

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