Shielding advice for very high-risk groups

What to expect and how to get support across the UK.

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What is shielding?

Shielding is used to protect people at highest risk of severe illness if they catch COVID-19. At the start of the pandemic, many people were asked to shield for several months. New measures have been brought in that mean in most areas of the UK, shielding advice is now paused. 

Some people with severe asthma may be advised to shield in England where the local covid alert level is very high. If this happens, it will be for a shorter period of time than during the first wave of the pandemic. 

Formal shielding in England means:

  • Trying to stay at home and avoiding contact with others as much as possible 
  • Not going to work 
  • Trying to stay two metres away from others in your household, especially if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19
  • Children who have been asked to shield shouldn't attend school

Shielding guidance in England

Check the government website to see if you live or work in a local COVID alert area.

Shielding measures will only be used in areas facing the highest risk. However, being in a very high-risk area doesn’t mean that you should automatically start shielding. If you need to shield, you will be sent a letter by the government advising you to do so.

The government website has information on the extra advice you should be following if you are on the shielded patients list. This is particularly important if you live or work in a high or very high alert level area.   

If you were on the original shielded patients list, you should also receive a letter through the post with tips on how to avoid getting COVID-19, even if you don’t need to shield again.

Shielding guidance in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

Shielding is currently paused in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. However, this may change and you should check your government or local council website for the most up-to-date information on the restrictions where you are.  

Advice for clinically vulnerable people in Northern Ireland

Advice for clinically vulnerable people in Scotland

Advice for clinically vulnerable people in Wales

Should I start or carrying on shielding now that cases are rising?

If the area you live, work or travel to has local lockdown measures in place, this does not automatically mean you should be shielding. You need to check with your local council what specific measures are in place where you are. However, you may have been advised to continue shielding if your GP feels you need to.

Making the decision to shield may be a hard one for some people. It can mean feeling isolated and making drastic changes to your daily life. The decision to shield is a personal one and is best made with advice from your GP.

If you were shielding earlier in the year, and you have not been asked to shield again, you should now follow strict social distancing measures instead.

These include:

  • keeping 2 metres or three steps away from other people outside your home, whenever possible
  • washing your hands regularly
  • limiting the number of people you meet, shops you visit and non-essential journeys you make
  • not sharing personal belongings, such as cups or phones, with other people
  • wearing a face covering in enclosed spaces, if you can wear one.

What should I do if there are local lockdown restrictions where I live or work?

Check local restrictions where you are. This will help you find out what you can and cannot do if you live, work or travel in areas with lockdown restrictions.

You can also find out more from your local council.

Check local restrictions where you are:

Northern Ireland

The coronavirus outbreak is a rapidly developing situation and the most up-to-date information for people in the UK can be found on the NHS website.

I’m worried about shielding affecting my mental health – what can I do?

The coronavirus outbreak has been difficult for everyone, but especially if you’ve been shielding. Over the last few months, you may have felt worried, lonely, stressed, anxious and bored. And coming out of shielding may have felt terrifying.

Try to stay in touch with friends and family by phoning, texting or talking to them online. Keeping in touch with people is an important way to look after your mental wellbeing. If the thought of shielding is making you feel anxious, you might find it helpful to tell people how you’re feeling.  

You could also speak to your doctor if you feel that shielding, or ending sheilding, affected your mental health - for example, if you feel too anxious to leave the house. 

There are also lots of organisations and resources available to help with your mental health and wellbeing:

Every Mind Matters

Clear Your Head (Scotland)



Mental Health Foundation

What help can I get if I have to shield?

Support in England

If shielding is introduced in your area and you need support, your council will be able to help you access food and support your basic needs. This includes helping you get priority supermarket delivery slots. Community pharmacies will also offer free medicines delivery.

The NHS Volunteer Responders service is continuing to offer support to people in England who need to self-isolate for any reason. They can also help people who choose to stay at home as much as possible because they are worried about going out during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NHS Volunteer Responders service can support you with:

  • collecting shopping, medication and other essential supplies
  • a regular, friendly phone call
  • getting to medical appointments by offering lifts.

You can ask for this support by visiting the NHS Volunteer Responders Service website or by calling 0808 196 3646.

If you registered for food parcels during your time shielding, you can still get priority slots for supermarket deliveries.  

You may also be able to get support from local volunteers – contact your local council for more details. You may also be able to get help and support from your local Mutual Aid group.

Support in Northern Ireland

If you need help getting food, medicines and essential supplies, there is also help available through the COVID-19 Community Helpline. This is a freephone helpline to help vulnerable people access information, advice and support in relation to COVID-19.

Find out more advice for vulnerable people in Northern Ireland.

You may also be able to get help and support from your local Mutual Aid group.

Support in Scotland

The national COVID-19 helpline is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, on 0800 111 4000. This is to provide help to people who may be at increased risk from COVID-19 and don’t have a support network.

This helpline connects callers to their local authority, who will help them access the service they need. This includes:

  • food and medication
  • links to local social work services for vulnerable children or adults
  • emotional support.

Read more about what support you can get if you’re a vulnerable person in Scotland.

You may also be able to get help and support from your local Mutual Aid group.

Support in Wales

If you do not have anyone who can help with food or medicines, you may be able to get help from your local authority or voluntary groups. Find your local authority in Wales.

You can also get help and support from Third Sector Wales.

You may also be able to get help from your local Mutual Aid group

Should I go back to work if I've been shielding?

Wherever you are in the UK, if you are on the shielded patients list, you should continue to work from home, if you can. If you can’t work from home, your employer should make sure your workplace is COVID-safe.

The governments across the UK have released guidance to help employees, employers and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Can I go to work in England if I've been shielding? This includes what to do if you live or work in a high or very high alert area.

Advice for workers in Northern Ireland 

Returning to work safely in Scotland – which includes a workplace risk assessment tool

Staying safe at work in Wales

The Government advice is that employers must support vulnerable and at-risk workers to protect themselves. The Asthma UK Helpline nurses are unlikely to be able to advise about specific employment situations, but there is helpful guidance from ACAS about coronavirus and employment issues.

Should my child go to school, college or nursery if they've been shielding?

Children who were previously shielding should now be back in school. If COVID-19 cases increase in your local area, they make be asked to shield again, but as a parent you will be given full details before this happens.

In England, if your child is a pupil or a student in a high or very high COVID alert level, they should still be going to their school, college or nursery, unless they have been told not to by their GP.

Free flu vaccines for people who have been shielding

The seasonal flu vaccine won’t protect you against COVID-19. However, it does help stop flu, which is common in the autumn and winter. It can make your asthma symptoms worse and even cause asthma attacks. This year, if you live in any part of the UK and are on the shielded patients list, both you and your whole household can get the free flu vaccine.

Read more about flu vaccinations if you’ve got asthma

Last updated on: Wednesday 14 October 

Free advice for everyone - but at what cost?

As a charity, Asthma UK provides free health advice to millions of people through our Website and our specialist nurses Helpline - a team dedicated to offering life-changing advice over the phone.

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