Photo: Son helping mum who has MS, put shoes on

MS, coronavirus and shielding

We know many people with MS are shielding because of coronavirus. Shielding advice has changed across the four UK nations, and shielding will be paused from 31 July in Northern Ireland, 1 August in England and Scotland, and 16 August in Wales. Follow the links below to find out more about the changes where you are.

We last updated this page on Friday 31 July

If you’ve had a letter advising you to shield, you’ll stay on the shielding list for as long as you’re considered ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ – in case things change and restrictions need to come in again. You should still follow the guidance for people considered clinically extremely vulnerable to make sure you get the latest national and local government advice.

Some local areas have temporary restrictions. These kind of local lockdowns could happen in any area they’re needed. If there’s different guidance for your city or county, your local council website will have details of how it affects shielding advice. For example, shielding is likely to stay in place for some weeks after 1 August in the Leicester, Luton and Blackburn with Darwen areas. Find your local council at gov.uk.

We know that shielding is not an easy thing to do, so these relaxations might be fantastic news to you. But if you also have worries or questions about getting outside after all this time, you’re not alone. Get in touch with our MS Helpline if you’d like to talk about any of this.

Changes to shielding advice in England

Shielding is due to be paused from 1 August.

Until it pauses, UK government guidance says people who are shielding:

  • don’t need to keep up social distancing with other members of your household
  • can go outdoors, keeping up strict social distancing
  • can meet in a group of up to 6 people outdoors, including people from different households, keeping up strict social distancing between households
  • can choose to be part of a support bubble, in the same way other people can.

When shielding is paused, the government says people should follow the same guidance as the wider population.

Everyone with MS is still considered ‘clinically vulnerable’, so the government recommends you’re especially careful about social distancing and hand hygiene. Find out more from our medical advisers about what you can do to reduce risks when going outside if you’ve been shielding.

Why is shielding changing?

The government says shielding guidance can change because the chances of catching the virus have gone down. The BBC has updates on how many cases there are in your area 

The government feels the risk from COVID-19 in the country is low enough. If the risk is becomes too high, the advice is likely to change.

Read the statement from our MS Society Medical Advisers about shielding changes

What happens to shielding support after July?

Food and medicine boxes and medicine deliveries from the National Shielding Service will stop from 1 August. But other support, like priority supermarket delivery slots and the NHS Volunteers Scheme will carry on.

If you’re worried about support after 1 August, get in touch with your local council to see how they can help.

Find out about support with shopping and prescriptions

Changes to shielding advice in Northern Ireland

Shielding in Northern Ireland is set to be paused from 31 July.

Until shielding pauses, advice from the Executive says people shielding can

  • go outside
  • meet up to 6 people outdoors, keeping strict social distancing
  • form a support bubble with one other household (of any size), if you live alone. You don’t have to keep up social distancing with the rest of the bubble, and you can visit and stay the night at their home.

Once shielding is paused, the Executive says people should follow the guidance for people who are generally vulnerable (sometimes called ‘clinically vulnerable’).

Find out more from our medical advisers about what you can do to reduce risks when going outside if you’ve been shielding.

Read the Northern Ireland Executive guidance for vulnerable people

What happens to shielding support after July?

The Food Parcel Service for people shielding will continue until 31 July. After that, the COVID-19 Community helpline can still help you find other support for getting food and medicines.

Find out about support with shopping and prescriptions 

Why is shielding changing?

The Executive says the advice can change because there are now fewer people with COVID-19. They also say the risk of getting infected is lower outdoors than indoors, if you keep 2 metres apart and good hygiene. Shielding is ‘paused’ because it might need to re-start if the risk increases in the future. The BBC has updates on how many cases there are in your area

Read advice for shielders in Northern Ireland on the nidirect website

Changes to shielding advice in Scotland

Shielding in Scotland will pause from 1 August.

Until shielding pauses government guidance includes shielding recommendations for physical distancing at home, travel and meeting others.

At home: you can stop physically distancing from people you live with. And if you’re the only adult in your home, you can choose to form an ‘extended household’ with one other household.

Exercise: you can now go outdoors for a walk, wheel, run or cycle. And do non-contact outdoor activities like golf, fishing, hiking, or outdoor swimming.

Meeting others: you can meet up you can meet up to 8 people outdoors, from 2 other households, in a single day. You should try to keep at least 2 metres from anyone you don’t live with, and wear a face covering if you can’t keep this distance. You can also meet outdoors with up to 15 people from 4 other households, with physical distancing
The guidance also recommends you avoid touching hard surfaces, choose quiet times to go out, and wash your hands as soon as you get home. You can use indoor toilets in other people’s houses when you visit them outdoors.

Travel: you can travel as far as you want  from home - there’s no 5-mile limit anymore. You can book all kinds of holiday accommodation or travel to a second home – but only to stay over with people in your household. You can use public transport, wearing a face covering.

Shops and leisure venues: if you wear a face covering you can go to shops and leisure venues including:

  • pubs and restaurants with outdoor spaces
  • shops, pharmacies and indoor markets
  • hairdressers and barbers
  • museums, galleries, libraries, cinemas and other visitor attractions

When shielding is paused, the government guidance will be the same as it is for everyone else in Scotland. You should strictly follow the recommended physical distancing and hygiene measures.

At the moment, these shielding changes are not recommended for people living in residential nursing or care homes.

Find out more from our medical advisers about what you can do to reduce risks when going outside if you’ve been shielding.

The Scottish government guidance for shielding includes tools and information to help you minimise the risk of catching coronavirus in daily activities and at work when shielding is paused.

What’s happening to shielding support?

The support for people shielding to get hold of essentials (like food and medicines) will still be available until 31 July. When shielding is paused you’ll still be able to get updates through the SMS Shielding Service, but the weekly grocery packs for people shielding will stop.

Find out about support with shopping and prescriptions

Why is shielding advice changing?

The government says these limited changes in shielding can happen now because of the scientific and clinical evidence about the risks of catching COVID-19. They say the evidence now shows that the risk of catching the virus from touching outdoor surfaces is very low.

The government says these changes in shielding can happen now because of the scientific and clinical evidence about the risks of catching COVID-19. They say the risks of catching it are very low when outside, and if you keep 2 metres or more away from people. Added to this, the number of people in Scotland who have the infection and could pass it on is very low. The BBC has updates on how many cases there are in your area

The Scottish government has a quick guide to what sort of activities are safer than others.

Read advice for shielders on the Scottish government website

Changes to shielding advice in Wales

Shielding in Wales is due to pause from 16 August.

Until shielding pauses, government guidance says you can:

  • do as much outdoor exercise as you like
  • travel as far as you want (there’s no 5 mile rule)
  • meet up outdoors with other households, always keeping 2 metres apart and strict hygiene
  • form an extended household with another household, but keep 2 metres from your extended household where possible

When shielding is paused, guidance will include:

  • you can go to work, as long as the workplace is ‘COVID-secure’, but carry on working from home if you can
  • you can go outside to buy food, keeping 2 metres (or 3 steps) away wherever possible.

The Chief Medical Officer for Wales will write to people on the shielding list about what to do after 16 August.

Find out more from our medical advisers about what you can do to reduce risks when going outside if you’ve been shielding

 

What’s happening to shielding support?

Food boxes will stop from 16 August. But priority supermarket delivery slots will carry on. The prescription delivery service will continue until the end of September. If you’re worried about support after 16 August, you can find contact details of your local authority or voluntary organisation from the Welsh government website.

Find out about support with shopping and prescriptions

Read advice for shielders in Wales on the Welsh government website

Should I go outside if I've been shielding?

Our medical advisers generally agree that a person with MS can stop shielding if their government (in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland) has said the risk from COVID-19 is low enough. Read what our medical advisers recommend to keep the risk as low as possible when you go out 

In this scenario, the physical and mental health benefits of going outside would generally be likely to outweigh the risk of infection, for someone who has been shielding for a number of weeks already.

But it's important to note everyone’s risk is different and people may be comfortable with different levels of risk. If you are feeling unsure you can look at our previous advice on the wider risk factors for people with MS from COVID-19.

If you take a course of alemtuzumab or cladribine, you should be particularly cautious for at least 12 weeks afterwards. You should discuss the most appropriate social distancing with your MS team.

When going outside, there are a few important points to remember:

  • you should stick strictly to social distancing rules if you do go outside – and when meeting others outside your household or support bubble
  • you should minimise time in enclosed spaces like shops and public transport
  • open spaces like parks or fields will generally be safest, rather than for example urban pavements

Our medical advisers also stress the importance of attending appointments with healthcare professionals, or seeking help if you feel seriously unwell. The consequences of not getting regular or emergency healthcare can be very serious for people with MS.

If you're still feeling uncertain after considering the risks and precautions you can take, call our MS Helpline to talk over your situation.

Read the statement from our MS Society Medical Advisers about shielding changes

Should I have had a letter from the NHS telling me to shield?

Shielding refers specifically to people who are self-isolating at home to avoid the risk of getting coronavirus. You might have had a letter, text or phone call from the government recommending you ‘shield’. This message has gone to a wide group of people, to make sure people at higher risk take action as quickly as possible.

You might have received this message even if you don’t meet the official criteria for “extremely vulnerable”. You might also get a letter if your GP or MS team are concerned about your risk for other reasons (for example if you have other health conditions as well as MS).

It’s very important you follow their advice.

Read about shielding in England on the UK government website

Read about shielding in Northern Ireland on the nidirect website

Read about shielding in Scotland on the NHS inform website

Read about shielding in Wales on the Welsh government website

I haven’t had a shielding letter, what should I do?

If you think you or a loved one are in this highest risk category, and haven’t had a letter or been contacted by your GP, get in touch with your GP or hospital doctor by phone or online for advice.

Should I get the seasonal flu vaccine?

The seasonal flu vaccine won’t protect against COVID-19, but it helps stop flu that’s especially common in the autumn and winter. You can get a free flu jab if you’ve got MS, and so can your carer or partner. In England this year, if you’re on the shielding list, your whole household will be offered the vaccine, as well as yourself.  
     
Read more about getting the flu jab if you’ve got MS

Read the UK government’s full list of who can get a free flu jab this year

What are my rights at work if I’ve been shielding?

If the government or your doctor have recommended you shield, you should work from home if at all possible while shielding is in place. And your employer should help you to do that. When shielding is paused, you can return to work if your employer has made the workplace ‘COVID secure’. All UK governments still say employers should help people to work from home where possible.

Find out more about working when you or your loved one have MS

Remember you're not alone

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.

You can also sign up to our new Keep in Touch service, for a weekly catch up call with one of our friendly volunteers.

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

You can join one of our Time to Chat or Virtual Wellbeing sessions and connect online with other people living with MS across the UK. 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.

We updated this page on Friday 31 July 2020

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