People shielding against coronavirus can now leave their home and return to work, as a further easing of lockdown restrictions in England is postponed.
More than two million at high risk will no longer need to isolate in most of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
But charity Macmillan Cancer Support has said people in the shielded group do not feel safe.
It comes after the PM applied the brakes to easing restrictions further and as some businesses remain closed.
Labour said it supported the government’s decision but criticised the initial lack of detail in Thursday evening’s announcement about the tightening of restrictions for parts of the north of England.
Elsewhere, Graham Medley, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the government, has said England could have to consider closing pubs in order to reopen schools in September.
“It might come down to a question of which do you trade off against each other and then that’s a matter of prioritising, do we think pubs are more important than schools?” He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Meanwhile, a new report suggests more than half of the people furloughed during the pandemic are now back at work, as companies begin contributing to the costs.
When lockdown began in March, those considered extremely clinically vulnerable – an estimated 2.2 million people in England – were advised to stay at home, or shield, to avoid contracting Covid-19.
People in high-risk categories include those who have had an organ transplant, are receiving immunosuppressant drugs, undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy, or have severe respiratory conditions.
Now, they can return to work if they cannot work from home and as long as their workplace is Covid-secure. It is still advised they maintain social distancing when outside.
From Saturday, those who were shielding in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will no longer receive food boxes and medicine deliveries from the government.
But shielding advice remains in place for Blackburn with Darwen in the north-west of England, Leicester and Luton, and the most vulnerable will continue to shield in Wales for another two weeks.
Eve Byrne from Macmillian Cancer Support said the organisation had written to the government over concerns shielders are having to “make the impossible choice” between their health and their job.
“People in the shielded group are telling us that they are just not feeling safe,” she told the BBC, adding that government needs to ensure the necessary protections are in place for people returning to work.
‘I don’t think it’s safe’
Norah Grant, who has chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and leads a support group for people under 60 with the condition, says the decision to end shielding was “very odd just considering everything that is happening in Manchester and all around”.
“I don’t think I will be changing my habits,” she tells BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, adding that she will be able to work from home in one of her two jobs.
“A lot of people in our [support] group are very nervous about going back to work,” she says.
Sara Swanson, who has an immune deficiency which means she cannot produce antibodies, says she will also continue to shield.
“I really don’t think it is safe,” she says. “There are a lot of people not following the rules.
“So for me it is safer to just stay at home.”
She adds she will only be able to work “partially” from home, so it will impact her financially.
On Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the further easing of lockdown restrictions in England – due to come in this weekend – would be postponed for at least a fortnight.
It means that the following will not be able to take place until 15 August, at the earliest:
- the reopening of casinos, bowling alleys, skating rinks and remaining close contact services
- indoor performances
- pilots of larger gatherings in sports venues and conference centres
- the expansion of wedding receptions to allow up to 30 people
- beauty treatments that involve the face, such as eyelash, eyebrow and threading treatments
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said he supported the government’s decisions on shielding and the lockdown restrictions.
But he told BBC Breakfast the “way in which the [lockdown] announcement was communicated” on Thursday night “sort of dribbling out” without all the detail “has caused a degree of confusion and anxiety”.
When asked about the chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty’s remarks that the country was “near the limits” of opening up society, Prof Medley, who advises the government, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think that’s quite possible.
“I think we’re in a situation whereby most people think that opening schools is a priority for the health and wellbeing of children and that when we do that we are going to reconnect lots of households.
“And so actually, closing some of the other networks, some of the other activities may well be required to enable us to open schools.”
‘Everything is up in the air for our wedding reception’
Kirsty Drake is supposed to be getting married on 15 August in two weeks’ time – when the decision on easing restrictions again is due to be reviewed.
She had finalised plans this week for a small wedding reception but now the restrictions mean she is unable to go ahead with the gathering at her venue after her ceremony.
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“I’m a little bit emotional about it today,” she says. “Everything is all up in the air again.”
“What I don’t understand is that if I wanted to now I could book six tables in a restaurant outside and sit and have a meal with those same group of people I’ve just got married with. We’d have to [socially distance] at the venue anyway.
“In our situation it would be safer to have a meal at the venue where we are due to get married.”
The rethink on easing England’s lockdown follows new restrictions for people in parts of northern England, after a spike in virus cases.
New lockdown rules were introduced in areas including Greater Manchester, east Lancashire, and parts of West Yorkshire. The rules include a ban on separate households meeting each other inside their homes and private gardens.
Face coverings will be mandatory in more indoor settings, such as cinemas, with the new rules being enforceable in law from 8 August.
Figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Friday suggest infection rates in England are rising, with around 4,200 new infections a day – compared with 3,200 a week ago. However, the level of infection is still significantly lower than it was during the peak of the pandemic.
A further 120 people have died with Covid-19 in the UK according to the latest government figures, bringing the total number of virus deaths to 46,119. Meanwhile, 880 new lab-confirmed cases have been recorded – the highest in more than a month.
Are you getting married this weekend? Or were you reopening your business? How will the postponement affect you? Share your experiences by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist.
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