The guidance points out that “no vaccine is 100% effective” and cites “emerging evidence” that the vaccines may not be as effective in immunocompromised and immunosuppressed individuals.
The guidance advises people to take “additional precautions” if they were previously advised to shield, setting out a number of significant lifestyle changes that people may wish to make.
The UK’s leading disability charity, Scope, told HuffPost UK the guidance is “essentially asking people to shield, without offering even the minimal support which has been available throughout the pandemic”. People with disabilities and chronic illnesses have also been quick to point out the flaws in the guidance on social media.
Here, we outline the key advice – and how it makes no sense for many of the 2.2 million people in England who were identified as being clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV).
Limit contact with people you don’t know
The guidance says people who are clinically vulnerable “may choose to limit the close contact they have with those they do not usually meet with in order to reduce the risk of catching or spreading Covid-19”.
Although not mentioned explicitly, this presumably means vulnerable people are advised against using public spaces, such as pubs, restaurants and cinemas – excluding a significant part of the population from leisure activities. Public transport and trips to the supermarket – two vital activities – are mentioned, but the advice has been called unhelpful.
Face mask laws will be scrapped on public transport, but the CEV guidance says masks should still be encouraged, to “ensure those who are clinically extremely vulnerable feel more relaxed”. With no legal requirement, vulnerable people have no guarantees.
The guidance also advices vulnerable people to shop at quieter times or use at-home delivery where possible to reduce the risk of infection. However, priority access to supermarket delivery slots via the Shielding Support website ended on June 21. Vulnerable people are advised to book delivery slots “in the usual manner from a supermarket”.
The advice has been criticised for making vulnerable people bend around the rest of the population – and some have pointed out that it simply doesn’t make sense for vulnerable retail workers.
Meet outside and avoid the unvaccinated
The advice also tells those who are clinically vulnerable to meet friends and family outside where possible. It adds that vulnerable people might want to “consider whether you and those you are meeting have been vaccinated” – a problem if you live with unvaccinated kids or an adult under the age of 35, who is likely to have only received one jab.
Be cautious about going back to work
The “work from home” order will end on July 19, meaning hundreds of thousands of people across the country may be told to go back to the office – and this poses a big problem for those who are clinically vulnerable.
The government’s guidance hints at caution, telling those who are clinically vulnerable they may be eligible for furlough or financial support through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. However, but these will both end on September 30.
While the wfh order will be scrapped, the new guidance highlights “employers still have a legal responsibility to protect their employees and others from risks to their health and safety” – and that your workplace should tell you how they intend to make your working environment Covid-secure.
However, Citizen’s Advice told HuffPost UK this legal responsibility does not extend to your commute, so if you have to use public transport to get to work, you’re (technically) on your own. It’ll come down to individual workplaces to implement policies for CEV employees.
The government’s site does say you may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay or Employment and Support Allowance if you are sick or incapable of work, either due to coronavirus or other health reasons, but you’ll need to meet the eligibility conditions.
In other words, things just got a lot more complicated for the nation’s vulnerable workforce.
‘Essentially asking people to shield’
The disability equality charity Scope is unimpressed with the guidance. The charity’s head of policy and campaigns, Louise Rubin, told HuffPost UK the document will “cause frustration for many people who are on the clinically extremely vulnerable list, especially people who are immunocompromised”.
“Throughout the pandemic, clinically extremely vulnerable people have felt forgotten and that their lives are seen as expendable,” she said.
“This guidance will make many clinically extremely vulnerable people feel they are on their own, having to rely on others taking responsibility, and without the support to keep themselves safe.
“The prime minister himself has said the pandemic is not over. Why has the government taken away vital support? Those most at risk have no concrete or consistent protections at work. Supermarket priority slots have been taken away. Furlough is due to come to an end.
“This guidance is essentially asking people to shield, without offering even the minimal support which has been available throughout the pandemic.”
HuffPost UK has contacted the Department for Health and Social Care for a response to the criticism and will update this article when we receive a reply.