More than 2.2 million people who have spent the last 10 weeks “shielding” themselves from coronavirus can leave their homes from Monday, Boris Johnson has announced.
Patients classed by the government as “extremely clinically vulnerable” will be able to go outside with members of their household or, if they live alone, to meet with one person from another household.
“I want to thank everyone who has followed the shielding guidance,” the prime minister said as he confirmed the easing of the lockdown measures.
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“It is because of your patience and sacrifice that thousands of lives have been saved. I do not underestimate just how difficult it has been for you, staying at home for the last 10 weeks, and I want to pay tribute to your resilience.
“I also want to recognise the hundreds of thousands of extraordinary volunteers who have supported you in shielding.
“Whether through delivering medicines and shopping, or simply by checking in on those isolating, they should feel deeply proud of the part they have played in this collective effort.
“We have been looking at how we can make life easier for our most vulnerable, so today I am happy to confirm that those who are shielding will be able to spend time outside with someone else, observing social distance guidelines.”
Those classed as clinically extremely vulnerable include organ transplant patients, cancer patients, and those with severe respiratory conditions such as cystic fibrosis.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick will confirm the easing of the guidance on Sunday. It will be further reviewed regularly over the coming weeks.
Mr Jenrick said: “Incidence rates of coronavirus are now significantly lower than before these measures were put in place.
“That’s why we are focused on finding the right balance between continuing to protect those at the greatest clinical risk, whilst easing restrictions on their daily lives to make the difficult situation more bearable — particularly enabling the contact with loved ones they and we all seek.
“We will now be providing regular updates to the shielded to guide them through the next phase and, we hope, to better and less restrictive times. In the meantime, we will continue to provide the support that the shielded in our communities need.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock thanked GPs, community pharmacists and volunteers for helping those affected by the shielding advice. “it’s now time to begin lifting restrictions, step by step, and while we must all stay alert, we can now start to resume a sense of normality,” he added.
Additional reporting by Press Association