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Department of Health & Social Care Q&A on social distancing changes for Clinically Extremely Vulnerable people in England from 17 May

14 May 2021

This is a UK government Q&A which is relevant to people living in England who have been classified as ‘Clinically Extremely Vulnerable

The new guidance for everyone on social distancing can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/meeting-friends-and-family-covid-19

The specific guidance for Clinically Extremely Vulnerable people will be updated from 17 May and can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19

1. What changes are taking place for Clinically Extremely Vulnerable people from 17 May?

Guidance on meeting friends and family has been updated for everyone. From 17 May 2021, if you are meeting friends and family (as a group of 6 people or 2 households indoors, or as a group of up to 30 people outdoors), you can make a personal choice on whether to socially distance within your own group. However, social distancing requirements continue to apply in the workplace, care settings, and in businesses and public venues. There is more information on meeting friends and family available at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/meeting-friends-and-family-covid-19.

2. How does this apply to clinically extremely vulnerable people?

The changes to social distancing guidance apply to everyone, including clinically extremely vulnerable people.

As someone identified as clinically extremely vulnerable, it is important that you continue to be cautious when meeting others. You should think about the risk of catching or passing on COVID-19 both to yourself and to others before meeting people you do not live with. You can take steps to make meeting family and friends safer, such as:

  • meeting outside if possible, as the particles containing the virus that causes COVID-19 are quickly blown away which makes it less likely that they will be breathed in by another person.
  • making sure the space is well ventilated if you meet inside. Open windows and doors or take other action to let in plenty of fresh air. Please see the COVID-19: ventilation of indoor spaces guidance for more information.
  • Keeping the number of contacts low
  • considering whether you and those you are meeting have been vaccinated – you might want to wait until 21 days after your second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine before being in close contact with others.
  • washing your hands regularly and avoid touching your face.

In addition, you are still advised to work from home where possible.

3. Will allowing hugging at Step 3 lead to a spike in infections? What is the scientific evidence for doing so?

Whilst close contact does increase the risk of transmission, the work that everyone has done to reduce overall transmission means that prevalence is now substantially lower, alongside the progression of our vaccine rollout. We also recognise the benefits to mental health and wellbeing of contact with friends and family. In that context, we have updated our guidance for meeting family and friends, and been clear that close contact with family and friends is a personal choice, but also that people should continue to use caution and consider the guidance on reducing risk.

4. Which settings will it be forbidden? Why aren’t friends and families allowed to hug everywhere?

In some settings, such as adult social care and education settings, it is important for specific COVID-Secure guidance to be maintained to stop the spread of the virus. These are settings where personal choices could have significant impacts on others.

You should continue to follow the COVID-Secure rules in your workplace, which includes social distancing. This is to keep your colleagues safe, and because your employer has a duty to keep you safe.

5. What is the advice for people who are immunocompromised, or those who have not yet had the vaccine?

Prevalence is currently low, and therefore the risk of exposure to the virus and catching Covid is also low for clinically extremely vulnerable people.

It is not yet possible to accurately determine if certain groups within the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable cohort may respond less well to the vaccine. Therefore, we advise all clinically extremely vulnerable people to take a cautious approach, following the steps described above.

We would encourage anyone who has not yet had the vaccine to take up the vaccine offer. Please contact your GP if you have not yet had your first dose of the vaccine.