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MS and coronavirus care and support

We’ve been talking to people across the UK about multiple sclerosis and COVID-19. These are some of the questions that crop up the most.

We’re working closely with our medical advisers and the Association of British Neurologists (ABN) to keep this page updated. So keep checking back for the latest information.

What's new?

We updated this page on Friday 30 April with changes to the social distancing rules in Northern Ireland. We updated that information for Wales on Tuesday 27 April and for Scotland on Friday 23 April.

We updated our printable COVID-19 factsheet on Friday 16 April, to include information about vaccines. 

Follow these links for information

  1. MS and coronavirus (COVID-19) – what are the risks?
  2. Are people with MS in the clinically extremely vulnerable group?
  3. How should I do social distancing and self-isolation if I’ve got MS?
  4. I have MS, what should I do if I catch COVID-19 or someone I live with does?
  5. Can I still get hospital appointments, MS healthcare and social care during coronavirus restrictions?
  6. What's the latest on the coronavirus vaccine?
  7. Can I get help with shopping and prescriptions in lockdown?
  8. Are there benefits or financial support I can claim in coronavirus lockdown?
  9. What rights and support do I have at work during lockdown?
  10. MS, carers and care at home during lockdown
  11. How can I get emotional help?

1. MS and coronavirus (COVID-19) – what are the risks?

Early research indicates that having multiple sclerosis (MS) in itself doesn’t increase your risk of getting COVID-19. 

But some people with MS could be at greater risk of getting coronavirus, or of complications if they catch it. For example, that could be because of frailty or having long-term conditions besides MS. Researchers are continuing to monitor this. Read the full list of factors our medical advisers have identified

Infections and relapses

We know infections (including viral infections) can increase the risk of relapses, though there’s limited evidence about COVID-19 specifically. You can read more on page 17 of our “Managing your relapses” booklet

DMTs and COVID-19

Studies so far indicate that in general being on a disease modifying therapy (DMT) for MS doesn’t increase your risk of getting COVID-19 or having worse symptoms. But there are some specific cases where a DMT is likely to increase risk.

You should follow your MS team's advice about treatments and any extra social distancing measures they recommend.  

read specific treatment advice on our DMTs and coronavirus page

Research into MS and coronavirus

There’s lots of research happening to help us learn more about multiple sclerosis and coronavirus. But as this coronavirus is so new, we don’t fully understand how it affects people with MS yet. Help us understand more about how the pandemic is affecting our community by taking the MS Register survey on coronavirus and MS

Are people with MS in the "clinically vulnerable" group?

Everyone with MS is technically in the "clinically vulnerable" group. This is because MS can be associated with increased risks, depending on your symptoms, treatment or other factors. And the government's data doesn't hold that level of detail about each person.

The government define the "clinically vulnerable group" as being more vulnerable to COVID-19 than the average person, but not as much as people in the “extremely vulnerable” group. It's very similar to the group of people eligible for the free annual flu jab.

Government advice about social distancing for everyone in the clinically vulnerable group depends on the restrictions in your area.

2. Are people with MS in the “clinically extremely vulnerable” (CEV) or “high risk” group?

Some people with MS are in the "extremely clinically vulnerable" or "high risk" group. This could be because of a particular treatment or the way your MS affects you. Or it could be a combination of things. 

The government have reviewed who is in the clinically vulnerable group in England this week and are adding 1.7 million people to it. If you get a letter that means you should follow shielding advice where it applies, and you are now in vaccine priority group 4.

Your doctor should consider you to be clinically extremely vulnerable if you:

  • have significant difficulties with breathing or swallowing (for instance if you need artificial feeding)
  • have taken alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) within the last 4 weeks (or longer if specified by a clinician)
  • have had HSCT treatment in the last 12 months (speak to your MS team to understand at what point your risks will reduce)
  • have taken cladribine (Mavenclad), ocrelizumab (Ocrevus) or alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) within the last 6 months AND have 2 or more other risk factors listed below

You might also be considered clinically extremely vulnerable by your consultant or GP if 2 or more of the other risk factors below describe your situation. They might add you to the shielded list on this basis.

Even if you’re not on the shielding list, you might want to take more stringent steps to protect yourself, including following guidance in your area for people considered “extremely clinically vulnerable”.

This is based on the best clinical assumption until we have more evidence about what can put people at higher risk from COVID-19. 

What else might put me at higher risk from COVID-19 if I have MS?

Main extra risk factors

The main extra risk factors are:

  • you’re over 70
  • you have trouble with things like preparing meals and housework because of frailty
  • your frailty or MS symptoms mean you usually need an aid for walking, or you use a wheelchair (score 6.0 or higher on the Expanded Disability Status Scale)
  • you have another long-term health condition besides MS, especially obesity, high blood pressure (also called hypertension), or diabetes. See a fuller list of long-term conditions that also apply on the US National Library of Medicine website
  • you're pregnant
  • you’ve had a course of alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) or cladribine (Mavenclad) in the last 6 months
  • you’re taking fingolimod (Gilenya)
  • you’ve had a course of ocrelizumab (Ocrevus) or rituximab in the last 12 months

Your MS team will be more familiar with your personal circumstances. So if they tell you to take precautions for any other reason it's very important you follow their advice.

Everyone with MS is technically in the wider group of "clinically vulnerable" people and should follow guidance extra carefully.

At times during the pandemic, UK governments are recommending people self-isolate (shield) if they are considered clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus.

Read the latest on MS and shielding

Each nation has precautions they recommend, based on local risk. Your local council will have details.

There might be extra social distancing guidance in your area if you’re considered clinically extremely vulnerable.

If you have any one of the risk factors, and your work means you’re more exposed to COVID-19, you should speak to your employer and consider taking steps to avoid contact with the public. For example, this might apply if you work in a hospital, a care home or a food shop.

Read more about staying safe at work

3. How should I do social distancing and self-isolation if I’ve got MS?

Right now everyone still needs to practice social distancing.

That includes:

  • stay 2 metres (6ft) away from people outside your household (or support bubble)
  • wash your hands regularly
  • check your government’s advice and rules on face coverings and meeting up with other people.

Everyone with MS is considered ‘clinically vulnerable’, so the governments recommend you’re especially careful about wearing a face covering, social distancing and hand hygiene.

If you’re worried about people not social distancing, you can carry a card, lanyard or badge that encourages other people to keep their distance.

Each UK nation has its own detailed guidance and rules.

England

The whole of England has national restrictions. The UK government COVID-19 roadmap sets out how they plan to ease these restrictions. At the moment, the key message is to 'stay local'. Groups of 6 people or 2 households can now meet outside.You should follow the usual guidance on distance, hygiene and face coverings when around people not in your household.

From 12 April, restrictions ease even more. This includes hairdressers and shops being able to open.

If you’re considered ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’, government advice to shield paused after 31 March. Everyone on the shielding list should get a letter with details of the new advice. 

Scotland

In Scotland, there are 5 levels of alert for different areas of the country, from 0 to 4. From 26 April the whole of Scotland moves down from Level 4 to Level 3. This means a significant easing in restrictions to do with travel, shopping and the hospitality industry.

People who’ve been shielding, and who’ve not been able to work from home, can go back to their workplace. If they can work from home, they should carry on doing that. Children who’ve been shielding can go back to school.

Under Level 3 up to 6 adults from up to 2 households can now meet indoors in a public space such as a café or restaurant.

Non-essential shops can reopen, including close contact businesses such as beauty salons. Cafés, pubs and restaurants can serve people outdoors, including with alcohol. Inside they can serve food and drink (but not alcohol) until 8pm. Takeaways can open as normal but with social distancing and mask wearing inside.

Tourist accommodation can reopen, as can indoor attractions, libraries and museums. You can use gyms and swimming pools for exercise on your own. Travel restrictions within Scotland and within the UK have now been lifted.

Non-essential childcare can begin again.

Funerals and weddings can now have up to 50 people.

You can now have people in your home to do decorating and repairs as long as they take social distancing precautions such as wearing masks.

Free COVID 19 tests are now available for people who don’t have any symptoms. You can order them online from NHS Inform

The Scottish government has set out plans to ease restrictions further in the coming months. All changes depend on the situation with the virus continuing to improve as expected. The next easing of restrictions is expected on 17 May when all of Scotland should move down to Level 2.

Northern Ireland

From 1 April, there's been some easing of the ‘stay at home’ restrictions. 

The latest changes, from 30 April, include:

  • Fifteen people (including children) from up to 3 households can meet outdoors in a private garden, with social distancing
  • People can stay overnight in self-contained accommodation with their household or bubble

There's guidance from the Northern Ireland Chief Medical Officer for anyone considered ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’. This includes advice on returning to the workplace if home working isn’t possible (since 12 April). 

Read more about shielding

The MS Society Resource Centre in Belfast will be closed to visitors during this lockdown. But you can get in touch by email and phone as usual.

Wales

In Wales, there are 4 different levels of alert (level 4 has the strongest restrictions). The whole of Wales is moving step by step from level 4 into level 3.

Changes in the rules and guidance include:

  • An end to the 5-mile travel limit since 27 March
  • Travel in and out of Wales has been allowed from 12 April (though some international travel restrictions still apply)
  • Since 24 April, up to 6 people from 6 households can meet up. This total doesn’t include children under 11 or carers
  • From 26 April, pubs and restaurants can open again outdoors

Shielding advice has been paused for people considered 'clinically extremely vulnerable', since 1 April. Find out more on our MS, coronavirus and shielding page 

    Can I get a contact tracing phone app for COVID-19?

    Contact tracing apps for mobile phones are now available in every UK nation. These apps could help control the spread of coronavirus. The contact tracing app for England and Wales will also give you local risk updates and a COVID-19 symptom checker.

    They don’t pass on details of your location to the NHS. That information stays on your phone. But they can tell you if you’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive for coronavirus. And if you test positive, it can tell people you’ve been close to so they can self-isolate. It doesn’t tell them who you are or where you are.

    Get the England and Wales COVID-19 tracing app

    Get the Scotland COVID-19 tracing app

    Get the Northern Ireland COVID-19 tracing app

    Can I form a support bubble or ‘extended household’ if I've got MS?

    People with MS can be part of a support bubble or ‘extended household’, so it’s easier in lockdown to see close friends or family who don’t live with you. There are different rules for support bubbles in each nation. But generally they mean you can think of yourselves as one household for most coronavirus guidelines. You should check for local restrictions that affect the guidance.

    If you live in England, Scotland or Wales and you’re the only adult in your household, you can form a ‘support bubble’ or ‘extended household’ with one other household.

    In Northern Ireland, a bubble (or ‘support unit’) can be up to 10 people from two households.

    In all UK nations, you shouldn’t change your bubble once it’s formed.

    Support bubble precautions

    Everyone should take any extra precautions that the households usually take - for example if anyone is clinically vulnerable, or one of the bubble has a lot of contact outside the house.

    Although the risk for individual people with MS from COVID-19 varies widely, everyone with MS is technically considered ‘clinically vulnerable’. The UK government says you should keep taking particular care to limit contact with others and should bear this in mind when deciding about forming a bubble.

    The Scottish government says you can join an ‘extended household’ but you should strictly follow the handwashing, surface cleaning and respiratory hygiene guidance on the NHS Inform website.

    In Wales, the advice is to take special care if anyone in the extended household is clinically vulnerable.

    Support bubbles for clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) people

    If you’re considered ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’, you can be part of a bubble, unless local restrictions say otherwise. Check the guidance for your nation for any detailed advice for people considered ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’. Everyone in the bubble should take precautions as they would in a single household.

    Should I wear a face mask if I go out?

    Wearing a face covering is not a replacement for proper social distancing and good hygiene. But it might help protect other people if you’re infected with coronavirus – even if you don’t have coronavirus symptoms.

    If you have coronavirus symptoms, you and your household (or support bubble) should self-isolate. Wearing a face covering doesn’t change this.

    The UK government has a guide to making face-coverings at home. And the Welsh government has a video explaining how to make a 3-layer face covering which they recommend.

    It’s important to wash your hands before putting your covering on and taking it off. And we should all avoid touching our faces as much as possible, whether we’re wearing a face covering or not. Coverings should be washed after every use, or thrown away if they’re disposable.

    Each UK government has written guidance which says face coverings could be useful if you’re in a small space and social distancing isn’t possible. For example, on public transport or in shops.

    In some cases, these are rules people can be fined for breaking. Each nation also has guidance for face coverings in schools.

    Read more about what schools do to reduce the risks of COVID-19

    If you can't wear a face covering

    If your MS or another condition means you can’t wear a face covering, or take it on or off, you don’t have to wear one.

    You don’t need to prove you’re exempt. But if you feel more comfortable letting people know, you can download a badge to print off or show on your phone from the UK government website. 

    4. What should I do if I have MS and get COVID-19 or someone I live with does?

    You should self-isolate for 10 days if you have a positive COVID-19 test or any of these symptoms:

    • a high temperature – you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
    • a new, continuous cough – this means you've started coughing repeatedly
    • you lose your normal sense of smell or taste, or notice it changes (the medical term for this is anosmia)

    If you are taking a DMT, you should be able to continue taking it if your symptoms are mild.

    Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital in person. You do not need to contact 111 to tell them you're staying at home.

    If anyone in your household or support bubble has symptoms or a positive test, you should all follow the rules on self-isolating. Try to stay away from the people with symptoms and take the government advice about hygiene.

    Getting tested

    Anyone with symptoms should ask for a test to check if it is COVID-19. The sooner you can get tested, the more it can help control the spread of the virus.

    If your test is positive, the NHS (or Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland) will get in touch with you. You’ll need to tell them about people you’ve been in direct contact with, and those people might then be told to self-isolate and where they can get support if they need it.

    Book a COVID-19 test online in England and Wales or call 119.

    Book a COVID-19 test online in Scotland or call 0800 028 2816

    Book a COVID-19 test online in Northern Ireland or call 0300 303 2713

    Test and trace support payments

    In England, Wales and Scotland, if you’re told to self-isolate by the test and trace service you might be able to get a support payment of £500, to help cover lost earnings. In Northern Ireland, you might be able to get other financial support if you’re told to self-isolate. 

    Find out more about financial support if you’re told to self-isolate

    Support with care, shopping and keeping active if you need to self-isolate

    5. Can I still get hospital appointments, MS healthcare and social care during coronavirus restrictions?

    You should contact your MS team as you normally would. Our medical advisers stress the importance of attending appointments with healthcare professionals, or seeking help if you feel seriously unwell.

    We know many MS services have been disrupted during the pandemic and this has resulted in long waiting times for some care. So it might be more difficult to get appointments for routine things like annual reviews. You're likely to be offered an appointment by phone or video call where it's not essential to be seen face to face.

    Remember, always contact your team if:

    • you have signs of a relapse
    • you go to hospital for any reason (even if you’re not admitted)
    • you’re considering any changes to how you take your DMT

    Social care services and the Coronavirus Act

    The Coronavirus Act and Coronavirus (Scotland) Act could affect your social care services if you live in England, Wales or Scotland.

    Read our Coronavirus Act news story to find out how it applies across the UK

    DMT homecare delivery service

    If you have homecare services to deliver your DMT, generally these should carry on without a problem. If they are delayed or you have any difficulties contact your MS team immediately.

    You’re not alone we can help

    Talk to someone on the phone

    We're here for you. If you’re worried about your MS and coronavirus and want to chat to someone, call our MS Helpline on 0808 800 8000. We’re here Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm except bank holidays.

    Chat online

    If you'd like to talk your worries through online with other people who know MS, visit our Online Community Forum today.

    Or join one of our Virtual Wellbeing sessions and connect online with other people living with MS across the UK.

    Ask an MS health expert

    Or you could sign up for an information webinar. We've got plenty to choose from, take a look at our online sessions and see what suits you.

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