05:52 GMT17 April 2021
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    As the UK slowly eases itself out of lockdown the government have announced plans to allow the 2.2 million people in England who are currently shielding to be allowed to spend more time out of their homes. This comes as the latest scientific evidence shows that infection rates in the community are continuing to decline.

    People with underlying health conditions who are most at risk from Covid-19 will be allowed to spend more time outside their homes from 6 July in England, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced.

    From next month those shielding from coronavirus can gather in groups of 6 people outdoors, while maintaining social distancing and those who live alone or are single parents will be able to form a ‘support bubble’ with another household. 

    People who are undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, have a damaged immune system or have had an organ transplant will continue to receive support from the government till the end of July.

    From 1 August, the 2.2 million “extremely vulnerable people” will no longer be advised to shield, but support will remain available from NHS volunteers and local councils. People will “retain their priority for supermarket delivery slots, and still be able to access help with shopping, medication, phone calls and transport to medical appointments,” according to a government statement

    Those who need to travel to work or cannot work from home will be allowed to return to their workplace as long as it is “Covid secure.”

    “I want to thank all those who have been shielding for so many weeks for their commitment to the shielding programme. I know this has been incredibly tough,” the Health Secretary said.

    “Now, with infection rates continuing to fall in our communities, our medical experts have advised that we can now ease some of these measures, while keeping people safe,” he added.

    Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jenny Harries, said, “The prevalence of the virus in the community is now lower and chances of getting infected are reduced, so we believe it is the right time to relax some of the advice so people can start to regain a degree of normality once more in their daily lives.”

    She advised people to continue to practice social distancing and frequent hand washing to minimise the risk of infection. 

    According to the Guardian, Sue Farrington, the chair of the Rare Autoimmune Rheumatic Disease Alliance, said: "Many people who’ve been shielding told us they have felt abandoned and while an end to shielding is welcome, people are understandably wary and need to know that their concerns aren’t being brushed aside."

    “We’re particularly concerned about people needing to return to work if their workplace is deemed ‘Covid-safe’. Over the last few months people have told us how the guidance for employers is already too open to interpretation. We really need to see specific guidance on how this will be enforced, how people will be protected and how any issues will be addressed.”

    The latest figures show that the UK’s coronavirus death toll has risen by 15, with over 42,000 people dying from the virus and more than 305,000 who have tested positive.

    National Health Service (NHS), United Kingdom, Matt Hancock, COVID-19
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