Two in five with a lung condition will shield until there is a coronavirus vaccine

Young woman outside wearing a virus protective face mask
Restrictions will relax in England on 1 August, allowing clinically vulnerable people to socialise. (Getty Images)

Clinically vulnerable people in England will no longer need to “shield” from August 1 as lockdown continues to ease.

At the start of the coronavirus outbreak, around 2.2 million people with a serious health condition were told to stay indoors as much as possible to ward off infection.

These individuals will be free to return to work and socialise, as long as they maintain social distancing.

Read more: Coronavirus identified six months ago - what could the rest of 2020 hold?

While this is undoubtedly welcome news for many, others worry the relaxation comes too soon given the coronavirus is still circulating, with around 4,200 new cases a day in England.

A survey of nearly 4,000 people with a lung condition, like severe asthma, has revealed two in five (21%) will continue to shield until a vaccine becomes available regardless of the August 1 guidance shift.

An old woman with mask walks through the city during the new Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) after the increase of coronavirus infected in Belgrade, Serbia on July 24, 2020. The number of coronavirus infections is increasing throughout Serbia, especially in Belgrade, where 80% of coronavirus infections are found. The government mandates the mandatory use of masks indoors and outdoors to halt the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).  (Photo by Nikola Krstic/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A woman wears a mask in Belgrade, Serbia. More than 17 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed since the outbreak was identified at the end of 2019. (Getty Images)

‘I’m not taking the gamble’

From August 1, the government is “pausing” its advice for clinically at-risk people to shield at home. Officials have stressed they will reintroduce the measure if cases spike.

The advice will be “stay at home as much as you can and continue to take precautions when you do go out”.

Read more: Hearing problems emerging as coronavirus complication

To uncover how vulnerable individuals feel about the restriction lifting, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation surveyed thousands of people shielding in England.

They found 42% plan to continue shielding after August 1, while four in 10 (40%) are undecided.

When asked how long they will shield for, two-thirds said until they are satisfied the risk of catching the coronavirus is low, while 21% said until a vaccine becomes available.

A jab has often been hailed the way back to normality, however, experts have stressed it is unclear whether an effective vaccine can be developed or how long immunity may last.

One who knows the anxiety of the pandemic all too well is Carol, 60, who has emphysema – a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease defined by damage to the air sacs.

“Both myself and my daughter, who is also shielding, will continue to do so beyond August 1,” she said.

“I haven’t left my house during shielding and I’m not going to take the gamble now.

Read more: Quarantines prevent 'less than one coronavirus case reaching UK' from Europe a week

“I’m not sure when I will feel able to leave the house, maybe not until there is a vaccine.”

Carol – from Wigan – has got through the past few months by keeping in touch with loved ones, staying active and spending time in her garden.

“While shielding has completely changed my life, in my opinion, I have no option but to continue to shield while the virus is still here,” she said.

“I’d urge everyone to not forget about those of us who are continuing to shield and to offer support where you can.”

Carol, who has emphysema, is considering shielding until a coronavirus vaccine becomes available. (Supplied)

‘Huge shift’ back to normal life

More than three quarters (78%) of those surveyed believe shielding is being lifted too soon, while four in five are “very anxious” about the relaxation.

Just over one in five (21%) have not left the house since lockdown began on 23 March, while one in 10 have only been out once a month.

More than a third (35%), however, have already stopped shielding.

Of these, nearly half said it was out of their hands, with many citing work commitments for having to go outside.

Just under two in five (39%) said the “burden of shielding” was more than they could bear.

“We know shielding has taken a huge toll on people’s lives and for many there will be a massive adjustment once shielding has been paused,” said Emma Rubach from Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation.

“To go from staying at home for months to returning to life as normal, is a huge shift.

“We are also concerned about the many people who feel they have to remain at home indefinitely, vulnerable people who will be cut off from others and support, and risk being forgotten.”

Charity officials have stressed they will continue to support vulnerable people whatever decision they make come 1 August.

“Shielding is very much a personal choice and whatever people decide, we can help,” said Rubach.

“If infection rates in your local area remain low, it could be a good time to venture outside a little more and see friends and family if you’re comfortable doing so.

“If you feel anxious or depressed, your GP can help you with mental health support. It’s a difficult time for anyone who has been shielding and there’s no shame in seeking help.”

Rubach added everyone should continue washing their hands regularly and maintaining social distancing, regardless of their overall health.

“We all have a part to play in protecting the most vulnerable in our society, so we’d urge everyone to follow guidelines and be considerate to those who are leaving their homes for the first time in months,” she said.