‘Clinically extremely vulnerable’ workers in England are being strongly advised by the government to avoid work outside their homes from Thursday.
Updated guidance says those at very high risk of severe Covid-19 complications, including those who may have previously been shielding, should work from home if possible and not attend work for the new lockdown period if their role cannot be done remotely.
Those unable to work from home may be eligible for statutory sick pay, employment support allowance or universal credit, the new Public Health England and Department of Health and Social Care guidance says. They may also be furloughed if they were on a company payroll before 30 October 2020.
The formal shielding notification employees have had, or will receive over the coming weeks, may act as evidence for employers or the Department for Work and Pensions that workers have been advised to follow shielding guidance.
The list of conditions where people are advised to shield has been widened to include stage-five chronic kidney disease, those undergoing dialysis and adults with Down’s syndrome.
Employees who are not clinically extremely vulnerable themselves, but live with someone who is, can still attend work if they cannot work from home.
Those covered by the guidance are advised to stay at home as much as possible, other than to exercise outdoors with people from their support bubble, and avoid all non-essential travel – to anywhere other than GP or hospital appointments, including shops and pharmacies.
Deputy chief medical officer for England Dr Jenny Harries said: “With the prevalence of the virus continuing to increase across England and in places across the world, it’s right that we adjust our advice for the clinically extremely vulnerable accordingly so they can feel as safe as possible over the coming few weeks.
“Our guidance for this group of individuals has always been advisory, but I would strongly urge all those who are clinically extremely vulnerable to take these extra precautions to keep themselves as safe as possible.”
Yesterday, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty acknowledged there had been “downsides” to the government’s previous approach to shielding, as well as the obvious benefits in reducing the risk Covid-19 poses to vulnerable people.
He said there had been “an increase of loneliness and increase of, in some cases, probably mental health issues”.
“In trying to work out the balance between [benefits and downsides] our impressionistic view is that shielding was useful but should be a less strict version of shielding in the next phase, to allow people a little bit more time outdoors. There was this real worry that people were feeling trapped in their houses and all the downsides that went with that,” said Whitty.
As this article was published, MPs were debating – and will later vote on – a national lockdown in England, which is planned to run from 00:01 on Thursday 5 November until Wednesday 2 December.
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