The Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for everyone, but none more so than those 180,000 people across Scotland who have been shielding. It is now almost four months since the Scottish Government asked those considered to be at the greatest risk from this virus, to shield.
The sacrifices each and every person has made has been extraordinary, and I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it must continue to be. It has separated people from family and loved ones, restricted them in virtually every aspect of normal lives, and there are very obvious and very real potential harms to mental health from extended isolation.
For all of those reasons, the Scottish Government has always been clear that they won’t ask people to shield longer than they have to.
The infection rate now is much lower than it was in March, and as a result, some further key changes to advice will take effect from today (24th July)) for people who are shielding.
• From today, if you are shielding, you will be able to meet indoors with up to 8 people from up to 2 other households, as long as physical distancing is in place.
• You will also be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to 15 people from a maximum of 4 other households.
• You can also use public transport – including taxis – while wearing a face covering.
• You can go to outdoor spaces in pubs and restaurants.
• You can go to into indoor shops, pharmacies and indoor markets.
• You can attend hairdressers and barbers.
• You can visit museums, galleries, libraries and cinemas.
• And children who live with someone who is shielding, can attend formal childcare providers.
Additionally, assuming there is no significant deterioration in Scotland’s coronavirus position, as things stand right now, the Scottish Government will be able to pause the shielding advice all together from the 1st August.
From that day, the advice for people shielding will then be the same as for those who are at heightened risk from Covid-19 – older people, people who receive the flu jab because of a health condition, and those who are pregnant.
This means from the end of next week, you will be advised to follow the guidance for the general population, although you will be asked to be especially careful about hand hygiene and physical distancing.
That will also mean that that children who have been shielding will be able to return to school in August.
And if you have been staying away from your workplace because you have been shielding, you will also be able to return.
Those affected will receive a letter from the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Gregor Smith, outlining updated guidance as well as the pause in shielding, which is possible due to the continuing low levels of Covid-19 infection in Scotland.
Even though these changes will be welcome for some, I know many will also feel anxious and worried too. To help, a series of measures will be established by the Scottish Government and partners to support people moving from shielding status – advice for those with specific conditions has been made available, guidance will be issued to support people returning to work and to schools, and information will be published on how to do various day-to-day activities safely.
The Scottish Government is keeping all the available evidence under review – and if there is a significant reason for a change in approach at a local or national level, we will adapt again, to keep those people most at risk in our society safe.
You can read the latest guidance on shielding online here.
Questions about shielding support can be answered on the free national helpline number on 0800 111 4000.
Deliveries of weekly grocery boxes to people shielding will continue until the end of July for those already signed up. Priority access to supermarket delivery slots will also continue for those who have signed up before 31 July.