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22 June 2020, 17:28 | Updated: 22 June 2020, 17:47
Those shielding due to coronavirus in England will be able to spend more time outside from next month.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced shielding rules will be relaxed from 6 July.
This means the 2.2 million patients who are deemed ‘at high risk’ and 'extremely vulnerable' to coronavirus, will be able to gather in groups and form a support bubble.
As of next month, these people on shielding lists will be allowed to leave their homes and spend time outdoors in a group of up to six people.
This includes family and friends from outside their household, but they will have to continue to follow strict social distancing rules.
Vulnerable people who live alone or who are single parents with children will also be permitted to form a 'support bubble' with another household - in line with the rules announced last week for those not shielding.
Shielding will also be 'paused' altogether on August 1, meaning those extremely vulnerable individuals will be able to go to the shops, visit a place of worship and return to work, as long as the business is COVID safe.
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own shielding rules and these changes do not apply.
Speaking at the COVID briefing on Monday, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries said: “The prevalence of the virus in the community is now lower and chances of getting infected are reduced, so we believe it is the right time to relax some of the advice so people can start to regain a degree of normality once more in their daily lives.
“People should continue to follow social distancing guidance when outside their homes, as well as frequently washing their hands, to minimise the risk of becoming infected. We will continue to monitor the evidence closely and adjust the advice accordingly if there are any changes in the rates of infection that could impact on this group.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock went on to thank those who had been shielding since lockdown began in March.
He said: “I know this has been incredibly tough. Shielding has involved not leaving your house for months, not seeing people you care about, not being able to wander to the park for some fresh air, or even pop to the shops for something you need.
"This sacrifice has been for a purpose, and I want to thank every single one of you. We knew it was a difficult ask, but these measures have been vital in saving lives.
"Now, with infection rates continuing to fall in our communities, our medical experts have advised that we can now ease some of these measures, while keeping people safe.”
The Government will write to everyone on the shielding list about what the new rules mean and provide more details about what is next for them.