Photo: Son helping mum who has MS, put shoes on

MS, coronavirus and shielding

We know many people with MS are shielding because of coronavirus. Shielding advice has changed across the four UK nations, and nation-wide shielding has been paused from 31 July in Northern Ireland, 1 August in England and Scotland, and 16 August in Wales. Follow the links below to find out more about the changes where you are.

We last updated this page on Thursday 3 September

If you’ve had a letter advising you to shield, you’ll stay on the shielding list for as long as you’re considered ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ – in case things change and restrictions need to come in again. You should still follow the guidance for people considered clinically extremely vulnerable to make sure you get the latest national and local government advice.

Some local areas have temporary restrictions. These kind of local lockdowns could happen in any area they’re needed. If there’s different guidance for your city or county, your local council website will have details of how it affects shielding advice. Find your local council at gov.uk.

We know that shielding is not an easy thing to do, so these relaxations might be fantastic news to you. But if you also have worries or questions about getting outside after all this time, you’re not alone. Get in touch with our MS Helpline if you’d like to talk about any of this.

Changes to shielding advice in England

Nation-wide shielding has been paused since 1 August.

Unless there are local restrictions, the government says people should follow the same guidance as the wider population. You can find your local council to check at gov.uk 

Everyone with MS is still considered ‘clinically vulnerable’, so the government recommends you’re especially careful about social distancing and hand hygiene. Find out more from our medical advisers about what you can do to reduce risks when going outside if you’ve been shielding.

Why has shielding changed?

The government says shielding guidance can change because the chances of catching the virus have gone down. The BBC has updates on how many cases there are in your area 

The government feels the risk from COVID-19 in the country is low enough. If the risk is becomes too high, the advice is likely to change.

Read the statement from our MS Society Medical Advisers about shielding changes

Can I still get support with food and prescriptions? 

Food and medicine boxes and medicine deliveries from the National Shielding Service have stopped. But there is still other support available, like priority supermarket delivery slots and the NHS Volunteers Scheme.

If you’re worried about support, get in touch with your local council to see how they can help.

Find out about support with shopping and prescriptions

Changes to shielding advice in Northern Ireland

Nation-wide shielding in Northern Ireland has been paused since 31 July.

Unless there are local restrictions, the Executive says people should follow the guidance for people who are generally vulnerable (sometimes called ‘clinically vulnerable’).

Find out more from our medical advisers about what you can do to reduce risks when going outside if you’ve been shielding.

Read the Northern Ireland Executive guidance for vulnerable people

Can I still get support with food and prescriptions? 

The Food Parcel Service for people shielding has stopped, but the COVID-19 Community helpline can still help you find other support for getting food and medicines.

Find out about support with shopping and prescriptions 

Why has shielding changed?

The Executive says the advice can change because there are now fewer people with COVID-19. They also say the risk of getting infected is lower outdoors than indoors, if you keep 2 metres apart and good hygiene. Shielding is ‘paused’ because it might need to re-start if the risk increases in the future. The BBC has updates on how many cases there are in your area

Read advice for shielders in Northern Ireland on the nidirect website

Changes to shielding advice in Scotland

Nation-wide shielding in Scotland has been paused since 1 August.

Unless there are local restrictions, the government guidance is the same as it is for everyone else in Scotland. You should strictly follow the recommended physical distancing and hygiene measures.

At the moment, these shielding changes are not recommended for people living in residential nursing or care homes.

Find out more from our medical advisers about what you can do to reduce risks when going outside if you’ve been shielding.

The Scottish government guidance for shielding includes tools and information to help you minimise the risk of catching coronavirus in daily activities and at work when shielding is paused.

Can I still get support with food and prescriptions?

The weekly grocery packs for people shielding have stopped, but there’s a helpline if you need support from your local council: 0800 111 4000. And you can still get updates through the SMS Shielding Service.

Find out about support with shopping and prescriptions

Why has shielding changed?

The government says these limited changes in shielding can happen now because of the scientific and clinical evidence about the risks of catching COVID-19. They say the evidence now shows that the risk of catching the virus from touching outdoor surfaces is very low.

The government says these changes in shielding can happen now because of the scientific and clinical evidence about the risks of catching COVID-19. They say the risks of catching it are very low when outside, and if you keep 2 metres or more away from people. Added to this, the number of people in Scotland who have the infection and could pass it on is very low. The BBC has updates on how many cases there are in your area

The Scottish government has a quick guide to what sort of activities are safer than others.

Read advice for shielders on the Scottish government website

Changes to shielding advice in Wales

Nation-wide shielding in Wales has been paused since 16 August.

Unless there are local restrictions, government guidance says you can now follow the same rules as the rest of the population in Wales. 

Find out more from our medical advisers about what you can do to reduce risks when going outside if you’ve been shielding.

Can I still get support with food and prescriptions?

Food boxes have stopped, but priority supermarket delivery slots are still happening. The prescription delivery service will continue until the end of September. If you’re worried about support, you can find contact details of your local authority or voluntary organisation from the Welsh government website.

Find out about support with shopping and prescriptions

Read advice for shielders in Wales on the Welsh government website

Why has shielding changed?

The government says that shielding was first introduced at the start of the pandemic in March when the infection rate was much higher.

They say infection rates in Wales are now very low, so the chances of catching coronavirus (COVID-19) are much lower.

Read advice for shielders in Wales on the Welsh government website

Should I go outside if I've been shielding?

Our medical advisers generally agree that a person with MS can stop shielding if their government (in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland) has said the risk from COVID-19 is low enough. Read what our medical advisers recommend to keep the risk as low as possible when you go out 

In this scenario, the physical and mental health benefits of going outside would generally be likely to outweigh the risk of infection, for someone who has been shielding for a number of weeks already.

But it's important to note everyone’s risk is different and people may be comfortable with different levels of risk. If you are feeling unsure you can look at our previous advice on the wider risk factors for people with MS from COVID-19.

If you take a course of alemtuzumab or cladribine, you should be particularly cautious for at least 12 weeks afterwards. You should discuss the most appropriate social distancing with your MS team.

When going outside, there are a few important points to remember:

  • you should stick strictly to social distancing rules if you do go outside – and when meeting others outside your household or support bubble
  • you should minimise time in enclosed spaces like shops and public transport
  • open spaces like parks or fields will generally be safest, rather than for example urban pavements

Our medical advisers also stress the importance of attending appointments with healthcare professionals, or seeking help if you feel seriously unwell. The consequences of not getting regular or emergency healthcare can be very serious for people with MS.

If you're still feeling uncertain after considering the risks and precautions you can take, call our MS Helpline to talk over your situation.

Read the statement from our MS Society Medical Advisers about shielding changes

What if I’m not on the register of people considered ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ to COVID-19? 

If you think you or a loved one are in the highest risk category, and haven’t had a letter or been contacted by your GP, get in touch with your GP or hospital doctor by phone or online for advice. Although nation-wide shielding is not recommended at the moment, there might be useful information and support you can access, especially if shielding is advised again in your area. 

Should I get the seasonal flu vaccine?

The seasonal flu vaccine won’t protect against COVID-19, but it helps stop flu that’s especially common in the autumn and winter. You can get a free flu jab if you’ve got MS, and so can your carer or partner. In England this year, if you’re on the shielding list, your whole household will be offered the vaccine, as well as yourself.  
     
Read more about getting the flu jab if you’ve got MS

Read the UK government’s full list of who can get a free flu jab this year

What are my rights at work if I’ve been shielding?

If the government or your doctor have recommended you shield, you should work from home if at all possible if shielding is in place. And your employer should help you to do that. When shielding is paused, you can return to work if your employer has made the workplace ‘COVID secure’. All UK governments still say employers should help people to work from home where possible.

Find out more about working when you or your loved one have MS

Remember you're not alone

We're here for you. If you’re worried about your MS and coronavirus and want to chat to someone, call our MS Helpline on 0808 800 8000. We’re here Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm except bank holidays.

You can also sign up to our new Keep in Touch service, for a weekly catch up call with one of our friendly volunteers.

If you'd like to talk your worries through online with other people who know MS, visit our Online Community Forum today.

You can join one of our Time to Chat or Virtual Wellbeing sessions and connect online with other people living with MS across the UK. Or you could sign up for an information webinar. We've got plenty to choose from, take a look at our online sessions and see what suits you.

We updated this page on Thursday 3 September 2020

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