Coronavirus: what does shielding mean?

Find out more about shielding, who it applies to, and what to do if you're a shielder.
elderly man in waiting room

National lockdown

The Government required people to stay at home from 5 January 2021, apart from limited circumstances. If you have been told that you are at high-risk from COVID-19 (clinically extremely vulnerable) you were told that you should not attend work, school, college or university, and limit the time you spend outside the home. You were advised that you should only go out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential. 

On 18 March, the Government announced that, as part of the easing of lockdown, from 1 April, people who were identified as clinically extremely vulnerable would no longer be advised to shield. If you fall into that category, you should have received a letter with detailed advice. 

To check the latest Government guidance, please visit

Understanding what to do if you are at high risk

What does shielding mean if you are at high risk for COVID-19? 

People who are defined as clinically extremely vulnerable are at very high risk of severe illness from COVID-19. People who fall into this category will have been advised to 'shield'. This word is used to describe how people at high-risk should protect themselves by not leaving their homes and minimising all face-to-face contact. 

How do I know if I am clinically extremely vulnerable? 

On 15 February, as a result of the introduction of new assessment software, more people were added to the Shielded Patients List (SPL). The software considered a number of factors to identify who was most at risk. Although many people who were added to the list would have already been contacted about vaccination because of their age, 820,000 adults between 19 and 69 years will now be prioritised for a vaccination and asked to book an appointment. 

If you have been advised that you are clinically extremely vulnerable, this will be because: 

  • you have one or more conditions that put you at risk fo serious illness if you catch COVID-19, or 
  • your clinician or GP has added you to the Shielded Patient List because, based on their clinical judgement, they deem you to be at higher risk 

If you are in this group, you will received a letter from the NHS or from your GP telling you this. You may have been advised to shield in the past. 

If you want to find out more about the factors that can make you clinically extremely vulnerable, read the Government guidance. 

Find out more 

What should I do from 1 April if I have been told I am at high-risk? 

Until the social distancing rules are eased more widely, it is important that you continue to keep the number of social interactions that you have low and try to reduce the amount of time you spend in settings where you are unable to maintain social distancing. 

Everyone is advised to continue to work from home where possible, but if you cannot work from home you should now attend your workplace. Your employer is required to take steps to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace and should be able to explain to you the measures they have put in place to keep you safe at work. 

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) has been extended until 30 September as has the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). You may continue to be eligible throughout this period. 

From 1 April you will no longer be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) on the basis of being advised to shield. 

Clinically extremely vulnerable pupils and students should return to their school or other educational settings. 

COVID-19 vaccinations

If you are aged 16 or older, you should already have been offered your first dose of the vaccine. If you have not yet received your first dose, please contact your GP. 

For children aged 12 to 15 years, vaccination may be appropriate for those with severe neuro-disabilities. This option should be discussed between parents/guardians and the child's clinician or GP. For other children aged 15 and under, whilst further research is being one, vaccination is not yet recommended. 

What support is available to me? 

If you have been advised that ou are clinically extremely vulnerable, you may be able to access a range of support including:

Access to support

Local councils and supermarkets will continue to provide support to follow shielding advice until 31 March. Councils will look to provide assistance wherever posisble after that date and, if you have already registered for priority access to supermarket delivery slots, supermarkets will continue to offer priority access until 21 June. If you have yet to register for support but are in need, please do so on their website by 31 March. If you do not have internet access, please contact your local council who will be able to connect you to the support that is available in your local area. 

After 31 March, if you are struggling as a result of Coronavirus please visit the Government website or contact your local council to find out what support is available. 

Access to health and care

Please remember that the NHS is open, and we urge you to continue to access all the NHS services that you need. It is likely to be safer for you to use the NHS than to try to manage alone. 

If you are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on your health, speak to your GP, hospital clinician or use NHS 111. Further information on accessing health and support can be found in the Government guidance

Get help from the NHS Responders

The NHS Responders are still helping people by collecting and delivering food, medications and essential supplies. 

0808 196 3646 

Find out more 

Contacting you if this guidance changes in the future 

Please make sure your GP has your most up to date contact details, including your home address and, if possible, a personal email address, so that the Government can contact you quickly in the event that the guidance changes in the future. 

Staying physically and mentally well

It is important to stay healthy despite shielding and staying in touch with people by phone, post or online can help.  

Here are some places that you can go to get support that’s right for you:

We've also put together some advice on how to look after your mental health during this time. 

Frequently asked questions

The following Q&A, based on information provided by the Government, aims to help you get some of the answers you need to know about what shielding means in practice. 

What does ‘shielding’ mean? 

Shielding is the word used to describe how to protect those at highest risk of severe illness if they catch COVID-19. You can shield yourself following the Government guidance, and shield others by minimising all interaction between yourself and those who are most at risk.

What should I do if I think I should be classed as clinically extremely vulnerable but have not been advised to shield?

If you have not received a letter or been contacted by your GP or hospital consultant, but feel you are within the high-risk category, you should contact your GP practice or hospital team.  

If you are unsure, check the list on the website to see if you are in the most at risk/ extremely vulnerable group. 

How long is the shielding guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people going to last? 

The advice is now that people should shield until 31 March. People who are shielding will receive a further letter in mid-March with further advice. 

Is the new advice to clinically extremely vulnerable people compulsory? 

There are national restrictions in place which are compulsory for everyone living in England. 

The additional advice to shield for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable continues to be advisory. 

Does my whole house need to shield? 

No, people who live with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable do not need to shield themselves but do need to follow national lockdown rules.  

They should attend work as normal if they are unable to work from home but are advised not to form childcare bubbles during lockdown.  

When will I get my vaccination against COVID-19? 

Clinically extremely vulnerable adults will get priority access to the vaccination. You will be contacted by the NHS with more information on when and how you will be invited to receive the vaccine. 

If I have had my vaccination against COVID-19, do I still have to shield?  

Yes, continue to shield even if you have received both doses of the vaccine. You and the people you live with should continue to follow the public health rules and guidance as long as they are in place, regardless of receiving the vaccine.  

My main carer is unwell – what do I do?

Speak to your carers about back-up plans for your care in case your main carer is unwell or needs to self-isolate.

You should have an alternative list of people who can help you with your care if your main carer becomes unwell. You can also contact Sutton Council for advice on how to access care. 

How can I get vitamin D tablets? 

The Government is extending the free four-month supply to those who are clinically extremely vulnerable to support their general health. You do not need to register for this service if: 

  • You are already taking or prescribed a vitamin D supplement 

  • You are living in a nursing or residential care home 

Register for the supplement 

Can I leave my home if myself or my children are at risk of domestic abuse? 

Yes, you may leave your home to escape domestic abuse. Read our article for more information on domestic abuse during the pandemic

Find out more

Got another question? 

To find more detailed answers to these and other questions, read the Government guidance on shielding and protecting people defined on medical grounds as extremely vulnerable from COVID-19. 

Find out more 

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