THE easing of lockdown restrictions in the UK has prompted growing concern from those taking extra precautions because they are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. On 31 May, the UK government announced that so-called shielders in England and Wales could now leave their homes. But what is the evidence behind the idea of shielding vulnerable people, and is it really safe for this to now stop?

Many countries have told those thought to be at higher risk from coronavirus due to illness or age to take extra safety precautions. But because this virus is so new, advice has largely been based on people’s best judgements, rather than scientific evidence, and the details of the advice has varied between countries.

The UK has been unusual in distinguishing between two groups of people at higher risk. In March, letters were sent to about 2 million people thought to be “clinically extremely vulnerable”, including some people with cancer, lung conditions such as severe asthma, and those who had had an organ transplant or have weak immune systems. Recipients were told they should stay home at all times. If they had no friends or family who could fetch essentials, they could get food parcels sent.