The Government have announced today that 1.7 million extra people will be advised to shield to protect themselves from Covid-19, bringing the total number to 4.1 million. For the first time, this will include healthy older people where their age itself makes them higher risk for Covid.
In addition to increasing the number of people who have been asked to shield, the Government have also started emailing shielders saying that ‘official shielding’ will now stay in place until at least 31 March, rather than ending next week. This means workers asked to shield who cannot work at home will be able to claim benefits because they are shielding, such as statutory sick pay.
It’s important to realise that high risk people should shield for as long as is necessary to protect their health. The Government have said that even after full vaccination (two doses of vaccine), people should continue to shield until further notice. The 31 March date relates to the availability of benefits for shielders, not to whether people should shield for their own protection.
The Government rely on computer programs called algorithms to find people who may be at higher risk of being seriously ill or dying if they catch Covid-19. The algorithm searches through medical records held on NHS databases looking for people with certain medical conditions. Back in April 2020, the NHS used an algorithm to find 2.2 million people who had medical conditions which made them higher risk. These people were placed on the original Shielding Register. Now, the Government has used an updated algorithm to find an extra 1.7 million people who are at higher risk, and they will be added to the Shielding Register.
In December and January, the Government wrote to everyone on the original Shielding Register advising them to shield until further notice, even after they have been vaccinated. Now, the Government will write to all the new people added to the Register giving them the same advice.
WHO IS BEING ADDED TO THE SHIELDING REGISTER?
The original algorithm used medical conditions that people had been diagnosed with to decide whether they were higher risk for Covid. Doctors could use their expertise to predict that people with these conditions would be more likely to be ill or die if they caught Covid. After the first wave of the pandemic, however, doctors could see that people who did get seriously ill or die were more likely to share certain ‘risk factors’. The new algorithm uses these risk factors to ‘score’ people for their risk of being seriously ill or dying if they caught Covid. People scoring more than a certain level of risk were added to the Shielding Register.
The level of risk that the Government have used to decide whether a person should be added to the Shielding Register is as follows. After looking at all the risk factors together, people will be added to the Shielding Register if:
1. They are 10 times more likely to get seriously ill or die if they catch Covid-19 compared to someone of the same age and gender who doesn’t have the same risk factors.
2. They have a 0.5% chance of dying if admitted to hospital with Covid, based on what happened to other people with the same risk factors admitted to hospital in the first wave of the pandemic.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF I’VE BEEN ADDED TO THE SHIELDING REGISTER?
You will get a letter from the Government telling you that you have been added. You will be advised to shield, which means not meeting anyone outside you household or support bubble, and only going out for essential exercise when you can be sure of being able to stay away from other people. You should not go to work, even if you can’t work from home, and you can claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) while shielding is officially in place. You can get help with deliveries and prescriptions if you need it from your local council, voluntary groups or the RVS. Full details are given in the letter.
You will also be invited to be vaccinated against Covid-19, probably during February and March.
WHY HAS THE GOVERNMENT DONE THIS NOW?
The Government has known about these risk factors for a while and this could have been done before today. BuDS feels that what has changed is that the Government is pressing ahead with ending the national lockdown and this will inevitably increase the infection risk as people start to mix together again. Another peak of illnesses and deaths will probably follow, although hopefully a smaller peak than before because more people will be vaccinated. However, keeping a larger group of the most vulnerable people in shielding will help reduce the peak further. So shielders are being expected to pay the price for the unlocking of other people.
To learn more, you can use these links to the Government website: