As the government ramps up UK social-distancing measures, some people have been left scratching their heads over whether they – or family members – fall into the category that requires particularly stringent measures right now.
On Monday evening, prime minister Boris Johnson told the nation that pregnant women are now also considered at increased risk of severe illness – a U-turn on previous guidance which suggested pregnant women did not appear to be more susceptible to the consequences of Covid-19 than the general population.
While we’ve known for some time that those aged 70 and over, and those with underlying health conditions, are more vulnerable to the disease than the rest of the population, not much has been said about who specifically falls into this category.
For example, do you need to adopt stricter measures if you have asthma? What about people with MS or Parkinson’s? Hopefully this will help clear things up.
Who is considered at increased risk?
• People aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
• People under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (ie. anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
– chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
– chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
– chronic kidney disease
– chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
– chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
– problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
– a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
– being seriously overweight (a BMI of 40 or above)
• People who are pregnant.
Experts from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have stressed that there is no new evidence pregnant women are at greater risk from coronavirus (Covid-19) than other healthy individuals, or that they can pass the infection to their baby while pregnant.
The prime minister’s latest announcement is a welcome but purely precautionary measure to reduce the theoretical risk to the baby’s growth and a risk of preterm birth should the mother become unwell, they said.
There are some clinical conditions which put people at even higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19. People who fall into this category include:
• those who have received an organ transplant and remain on ongoing immunosuppression medication
• people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radiotherapy
• people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia who are at any stage of treatment
• people with severe chest conditions such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma (requiring hospital admissions or courses of steroid tablets)
• people with severe diseases of body systems, such as severe kidney disease (dialysis)
People in this last category will be directly contacted by NHS England next week and offered advice on the more stringent measures they should take in order to keep safe. In the meantime, anyone who falls into the above categories should be “rigorously” following social distancing advice.
Can you still go to the doctor or hospital?
“We advise everyone to access medical assistance remotely, wherever possible,” reads the latest government advice. “However, if you have a scheduled hospital or other medical appointment during this period, talk to your GP or clinician to ensure you continue to receive the care you need and consider whether appointments can be postponed.”
So, what should you do now?
Boris Johnson said that by the weekend, groups particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 will be asked to stay at home for 12 weeks to “ensure this period of shielding, this period of maximum protection coincides with the peak of the disease”.
This measure has not yet come into effect. However if you are considered at-risk, you should definitely be thinking about how you will live and work from home and get the necessary supplies and prescriptions over the next three months.
This may involve using online shops or relying on a friend or family member to drop them off on your doorstep. Other things to think about include how you’ll exercise, how you’ll fill your time (hobbies, games, books, etc), and how you’ll continue to connect with others, albeit remotely.
While the whole population has been advised to follow the below social distancing measures, those in at-risk groups are “strongly advised” to follow them and to “significantly limit face-to-face interaction with friends and family”.
Social distancing advice
1) Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus (Covid-19) – a high temperature and/or new and continuous cough.
2) Avoid non-essential use of public transport, varying your travel times to avoid rush hour, when possible.
3) Work from home, where possible. Your employer should support you to do this.
4) Avoid large gatherings, and gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars, clubs.
5) Avoid gatherings with friends and family. Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media.
6) Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other services.
This guidance is likely to be in place for some weeks, so you should contact your friends and family to let them know that you are reducing social contact and that they should not visit you during this time, unless they are providing essential care for you – ie. help with washing, dressing, or preparing meals.
A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost UK that the stricter measures only apply to those who are in the more vulnerable groups. People who live with someone classed as at-risk are urged to “try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days”.
However, this is unlikely to be possible for everyone, in which case, you should try to keep away from each other as much as possible, suggests the NHS.
This includes keeping at least two metres (three steps) from other people in your home, and sleeping alone, if possible.