Health Minister Robin Swann has announced fresh easements to the shielding advice given to people who are extremely vulnerable to Covid-19.
From 6 July, people who are shielding will be able to meet up to six people outside the home, as long as social distancing is strictly observed.
In addition, people who are shielding and living alone will be able to form a support bubble from July 6 with one other household.
These easements are based on the continuing reduction in the rate of community transmission of the virus in Northern Ireland. Further details will be provided in writing to people who are shielding. This letter will also set out plans to put shielding on hold from 31 July.
Minister Swann said: “I have no doubt that shielding has played a key role in saving many lives. It has undoubtedly been extremely difficult for those who are shielding. I have listened with great sympathy to what people have told us about feeling isolated and how they have missed their loved ones.
“I know these easements that take effect on 6 July will be welcome news to many as we move towards the pause in shielding from the end of July.
“However, I am also very conscious that there will be some who are apprehensive about this change. I would therefore, once again, repeat my call to everyone to continue to observe social distancing and to be considerate of the fact that the people you meet may have been shielding for many weeks.”
The Minister added that people who are shielding must strictly follow public health advice on social distancing and hand washing.
“While the risk of being infected has reduced, the virus still constitutes a serious threat to those who are shielding should they get it.
“It is important to remember that because of your underlying condition, Covid-19 will remain a threat to you. At the same time, it is accepted that shielding has been really challenging and that being stuck indoors indefinitely is bad for mental and physical health. What we all have to do in these difficult times is try to strike the right balance.
“This is about minimising any risk as much as possible, being aware that all contacts with the outside world must be managed really carefully.
“Keep your distance, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, avoid touching hard surfaces if you are out. Wherever possible, avoid enclosed spaces where social distancing is hard to maintain – such as public transport and shops.”
The easements in shielding guidance from 6 July were agreed at today’s Executive meeting. This includes meeting up to six people outside the home providing social distancing is strictly observed.
People who are shielding alone can form a support bubble with one other household. Social distancing is not required with this other household. This will allow people to visit, stay over and spend more time with the second household.
The second household can be of any size. Both households should not be part of more than one bubble and should continue to socially distance outside the bubble.