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MS, coronavirus and shielding

We know many people with MS were shielding because of coronavirus. At the moment, all UK governments have paused their advice to shield. Local areas have different government advice for people considered ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ to COVID-19. 

We last updated this page on Tuesday 13 October with information about changes in England

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. Find your local council at gov.uk.

In England, every part of the country has a 'COVID alert level' which affects the advice given for people considered extremely clinically vulnerable to COVID-19. 

Get in touch with our MS Helpline if you’d like to talk about any of this.

Changes to shielding advice in England

Nation-wide shielding has been paused since 1 August. The government has new guidance for everyone considered extremely clinically vulnerable. 

All areas of the country now have a COVID alert level – either ‘medium’, ‘high’ or ‘very high’. There's general guidance that applies to everyone, and extra advice if your area’s at the ‘high’ or ‘very high’ level.

At the moment, shielding – completely self-isolating – is not advised in any area. If you previously had a letter asking you to shield, the government will write to you again if shielding is recommended where you are. 

Areas with the ‘very high’ COVID alert level can have extra local rules that apply to everyone. Your local council will have details.

The basic guidance for everyone considered ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ includes: 

  • Strictly observe social distancing, though you don’t have to keep 2 metres from members of your own household or support bubble
  • Meet other people outside when possible, rather than inside 
  • Work from home where possible, but you can still go to a COVID-safe workplace
  • Limit unnecessary journeys on public transport
  • Children should still go to school unless they have been advised not to by their own doctor

In an area with high COVID alert level, the guidance is stricter, including: 

  • Reduce the number of people you meet outside
  • Avoid travel except for essential journeys
  • Cut the number of shopping trips, or go at quieter times of the day

In an area with very high COVID alert level, the guidance is stricter still, including: 

  • Stay home as much as possible, but exercise outside if you usually would
  • Significantly reduce shopping trips and, if you can, use online delivery or ask others to shop for you
  • You might want to social distance from members of your own household, where possible
  • If there’s no alternative, you can still go to a COVID-safe workplace

Find out the COVID alert level for your area and the full guidance if you’re considered ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’

Read more about your rights at work during the coronavirus restrictions

Why has shielding advice changed?

The government says that social distancing rules for everyone mean that we no longer need the very restrictive shielding across England that happened before 1 August.  

The new guidance varies according to local COVID alert levels and specific advice for the very worst affected areas. The biggest restrictions will only be in place for limited periods of time.

By doing this, the government aims to have restrictions that keep people safe, but don’t cause the same problems with mental health and wellbeing linked to the previous strict shielding.  

Can I still get support with food and prescriptions? 

Food and medicine boxes and medicine deliveries from the National Shielding Service have stopped. But there is still other support available, like priority supermarket delivery slots and the NHS Volunteers Scheme.

If you’re worried about support, 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

Nation-wide shielding in Northern Ireland has been paused since 31 July.

Unless there are local restrictions, 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

Can I still get support with food and prescriptions? 

The Food Parcel Service for people shielding has stopped, but 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 was shielding paused?

At the end of July the Executive said the advice could change because there were now fewer people with COVID-19, so the risk of catching it had gone down. Advice in your local area could be different if cases are higher. 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

Nation-wide shielding in Scotland has been paused since 1 August.

Unless there are local restrictions, the government guidance is 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.

Can I still get support with food and prescriptions?

The weekly grocery packs for people shielding have stopped, but there’s a helpline if you need support from your local council: 0800 111 4000. And you can still get updates through the SMS Shielding Service.

Find out about support with shopping and prescriptions

Why was shielding paused?

In August, the government said this change in shielding could happen because the chances of catching the virus had gone down. Advice in your local area may be different if cases are higher. 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

Nation-wide shielding in Wales has been paused since 16 August.

Unless there are local restrictions, government guidance says you can now follow the same rules as the rest of the population in Wales. 

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

Can I still get support with food and prescriptions?

Food boxes have stopped, but priority supermarket delivery slots are still happening. The prescription delivery service will continue until the end of September. If you’re worried about support, 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

Why was shielding paused?

In August the government said that shielding could be paused because infection rates in Wales went down. This meant the chances of catching coronavirus were much lower. Advice in your local area may be different if cases are higher. The BBC has updates on how many cases there are in your area

Read advice for shielders in Wales on the Welsh government website

What if I’m not on the register of people considered ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ to COVID-19? 

If you think you or a loved one are in the 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. Although nation-wide shielding is not recommended at the moment, there might be useful information and support you can access, especially if shielding is advised again in your area. 

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. And this year, all UK governments plan to offer the vaccine to your whole household if you're on the shielding list (those people considered 'extremely clinically vulnerable' to the new coronavirus). 

Read the UK government’s announcement of who can get a free flu jab this year in England

Read the Scottish government's announcement of who can get a free flu jab this year

Read the Welsh government's announcement of who can get a free flu jab this year 

Read the Northern Ireland Department of Health announcement of who can get a free flu jab this year    

Read more about getting the flu jab and other vaccines if you’ve got MS

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 if 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.

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 Tuesday 13 October 2020

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We're constantly updating our information on coronavirus. So if you want to share it, please link to the page directly rather than quoting or summarising what we’ve said.

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