The 2.2 million people on the clinically vulnerable shielding list in England are to be given specific advice based on the alert level they fall into under the new tier restrictions system.
The shielding group – which is defined by medics as those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, based on age, ethnicity, gender, and individual clinical needs are to be told they no longer need to stay in their homes to keep safe.
This is predicted to range from “meet others outside where possible” for Tier 1 areas, to “ask people in your household, support bubble or volunteers to collect food and medicines” for those whose homes are in Tier 3.
This advice was announced this afternoon by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries.
However, it is believed that officials are making plans for even tighter shielding restrictions within the Tier 3 areas which have the most worrying levels of coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission, and there are warnings that vulnerable residents in those potential future “prescribed areas” may in fact told to shield by staying indoors as they did during the national lockdown.
Dr Jenny Harries stressed the letters being sent out would contain guidance and not compulsory instructions.
The new advice – which is said to be based on mitigating factors including the ‘rule of six’ and mask-wearing – encourages people to continue to work and take outdoor exercise, and the letters will provide what is being described as “soft” advice in addition to the national restrictions.
For clinically vulnerable residents under Tier 1 restrictions, the advice includes: “Strictly observe social distancing, meet others outside where possible, limit unnecessary journeys on public transport and work from home where possible, but you can still go to work and children should still attend school.
“This is on top of restrictions for everyone to only meet in groups of up to six people.”
For Tier 2 areas – which includes Greater Manchester and widespread areas of the North West – which are under the ‘high’ alert level, the advice states: “Reduce the number of different people met outside, avoid travel except for essential journeys, work from home where possible and reduce the number of shopping trips made or go at quieter times of the day.
“You can still go to work if you cannot work from home because all workplaces should be COVID secure, and children should still attend school.”
When it comes to residents under Tier 3, which is at present solely the Liverpool City Region, the advice will be: “Work from home, in general stay at home as much as possible, and avoid all but essential travel. You should also significantly reduce shopping trips, and if possible use online delivery or ask people in your household, support bubble or volunteers to collect food and medicines.
“People in these areas are encouraged to still go outside for exercise, and can still go to school and to work if they cannot work from home.”
Dr Jenny Harries said: “The new system will provide clarity on how best those in this group can keep themselves as safe as possible depending on the rates of transmission in their local area.
“We will continue to monitor the evidence closely,
“[And] fine tune this approach to make sure everyone in this group is clear about the safest way to go about their daily lives, particularly over the coming winter months,”
You can find more information about who was previously classed as clinically vulnerable here.
For the latest information, guidance and support during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the UK, please do refer to official sources at gov.uk/coronavirus.
‘Significant risk’ of UK gas shortages this winter, regulator warns
Energy regulator Ofgem has warned that the UK faces a ‘significant risk’ of gas shortages this winter.
According to reports in The Times, the regulator has unveiled concerns that the country could face blackouts over the coming months thanks to an undersupply of gas to Europe caused by Russia’s war with Ukraine.
Warning that a “gas supply emergency” could be looming ahead, the energy regulator has said that some gas-fired power plants could see their supplies cut off, which in turn would stop generators from producing electricity.
The alert comes just days before an expected update from the National Grid on the likelihood of countrywide power cuts this winter.
Responsing to arequest from SSE, which owns several gas power stations, Ofgem outlined what is set to be a huge issue of concern given that the UK relies on large gas plants to produce the biggest share of its electricity supply.
The regulator also pointed to rules that could see power plants penalised as a result of shortages, warning of a worst-case scenario that would see the “potential insolvency of gas-fired generators” caused by rules that require plants to pay huge charges if they fail to deliver on promised quotas.
Adding that the issue must be addressed to prevent a “significant impact on the safety and security of the electricity and/or gas systems”, the regulator echoed concerns now widespread in Europe as its comments followed a similar statement made by the International Energy Agency (IEA) this morning.
Europeans are already being told they must lower their thermostats and boilers in preparation in case gas supplies are cut off, with Paris-based agency IEA warning today that the EU must focus on getting underground gas reserve levels to 90% of capacity in case of a complete Russian supply shut-off.
Preparation are already being made in Europe with the German government having approved a set of energy-saving measures for the winter to limit use in public buildings. In France, meanwhile, companies have already been warned they may face energy rationing this winter.
Whilst the UK government is yet to announce any energey saving measures, Ofgem has said that it expect s“this winter to be more challenging than last year” and that it is taking “reasonable regulatory steps to mitigate and reduce the risks”.