More than two million people in England have been asked to shield once again as the nation enters its third coronavirus lockdown.
The government has advised those who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable to stay at home and only leave for medical appointments and exercise.
Announcing the national lockdown in his televised address to the nation last night, Boris Johnson said: “If you are clinically extremely vulnerable, we are advising you to begin shielding again and you will shortly receive a letter about what this means for you.”
He called on the clinically vulnerable to stop going to work even if they cannot work from home, and avoid busy places including shops and pharmacies.
However, the Prime Minister pledged that everyone who is on the shielding list will be offered the vaccine by the middle of February.
He added: “If we succeed in vaccinating all those groups we will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus. That will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions.”
The new shielding guidance comes despite warnings that it had a negative impact on mental and physical health during the first lockdown.
James Taylor, executive director of strategy at disability equality charity Scope, said being asked to shield again would “fill many disabled people with anxiety as they face uncertain months ahead locked away from loved ones” and added that it is “vital” that those shielding “aren’t left feeling forgotten again like many did last year”.
He said last year many had faced isolation and struggled to access vital healthcare, food and essentials.
He added: “The government must urgently take steps to prevent the failings of previous lockdowns and make sure disabled people are properly supported this time. Many disabled people already felt unsafe going to work and so it’s vital that both the government and businesses provide support to help disabled people stay in employment, rather than leave furlough up to employer discretion.
“Disabled people at higher risk of the virus should not be having to choose between their life and livelihood.”
MPs are expected to vote on the new restrictions on January 6, which will be enshrined in law with penalties for breaches.