Government reveals rules are changing for 2.2m vulnerable people shielding at home
The Government is to set out full guidance on how the 2.2 million extremely vulnerable people shielding from coronavirus can safely venture out for the first time in months from Monday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised their resilience as he said those shielding from Covid-19 in England will be able to spend time with other people outdoors.
And Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the full guidance will be revealed on Sunday, as charities called for the scientific evidence behind the decision to be made clear and urged more help.
Those considered extremely vulnerable will be able to go outside with members of their household from Monday, while continuing to follow social distancing guidelines.
And those who live alone can meet outside with one other person from another household.
Reviews of the shielding guidance are expected to be made at regular points in the coming weeks.
Mr Johnson said: "I want to thank everyone who has followed the shielding guidance - it is because of your patience and sacrifice that thousands of lives have been saved.
"I do not underestimate just how difficult it has been for you, staying at home for the last 10 weeks, and I want to pay tribute to your resilience.
"I also want to recognise the hundreds of thousands of extraordinary volunteers who have supported you in shielding.
"Whether through delivering medicines and shopping, or simply by checking in on those isolating, they should feel deeply proud of the part they have played in this collective effort.
"We have been looking at how we can make life easier for our most vulnerable, so today I am happy to confirm that those who are shielding will be able to spend time outside with someone else, observing social distance guidelines.
"I will do what I can, in line with the scientific advice, to continue making life easier for you over the coming weeks and months."
Mr Jenrick said: "Those shielding from coronavirus have made huge sacrifices over recent months to protect both themselves and the NHS - they deserve our thanks and our support for their efforts.
"Incidence rates of coronavirus are now significantly lower than before these measures were put in place.
"That's why we are focused on finding the right balance between continuing to protect those at the greatest clinical risk, whilst easing restrictions on their daily lives to make the difficult situation more bearable - particularly enabling the contact with loved ones they and we all seek.
"We will now be providing regular updates to the shielded to guide them through the next phase and, we hope, to better and less restrictive times. In the meantime we will continue to provide the support that the shielded in our communities need."
Steven McIntosh, director of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said the decision was "a step forward" for a group who "have felt left behind and forgotten" as lockdown is eased for others in England.
He said: "For many, it'll be welcome advice that they can now choose to go outside for exercise or to meet people whilst socially distancing.
"But they still face heavy restrictions like being advised to avoid food shopping, going to pharmacies or their workplaces.
"The Government also hasn't yet delivered its commitment to provide greater help to this extremely vulnerable group, and Macmillan has heard from people living with cancer that existing 'shielding' support isn't getting through.
"So the Government must now set out how they will guarantee the needs of the most vulnerable and isolated are met."
And Phil Anderson, head of policy at the MS Society, said people would want to hear the scientific evidence behind the decision.
He said: "Over 130,000 people live with MS in the UK and thousands of them have been left feeling forgotten after months of shielding. While for some it may be a relief that this relaxation is happening in England others have been left feeling confused. We're extremely concerned this news has come out of the blue - people who are extremely vulnerable will rightly want to hear a lot more about the scientific evidence showing this will be safe for them.
"If the Government is serious about supporting vulnerable people who are shielding they need more than just the ability to go outside. Crucially, we want to see better mental health support for everyone who needs it."