Millions of clinically vulnerable people in England will no longer have to follow strict “shielding” guidance from August under major changes to the rules.
In March, the Government ordered 2.2 million people with serious health conditions to stay indoors to protect them from coronavirus.
The restrictions have been slowly eased, with shielded people allowed to meet up with up to five people from July 6.
And from August 1 the shielding advice will end completely – unless there is a spike in coronavirus cases.
It comes as part of wider easing of lockdown measures, with Boris Johnson keen to get the country back to work to boost the flagging economy.
But some experts remain concerned about the impact of a wider reopening of society, as while coronavirus rates have been falling, there have been local outbreaks in places such as Leicester and Blackburn with Darwen.
Here are the answers to your questions on the end of shielding.
Who was told to shield by the Government?
Millions of people received letters from the Government telling them to shield because of their medical history.
Doctors drew up a list of conditions likely to make people particularly at risk of being seriously ill with coronavirus.
This included organ donor recipients, people with certain types of cancer and those with severe respiratory conditions such as asthma and cystic fibrosis.
Pregnant women, some people over 70s and those who usually need a flu jab to cope with underlying health conditions were also told to shield.
However the advice was not compulsory – it was for people’s own protection from the virus.
What will change from August 1
From the beginning of August, the Government is “pausing” advice to people to shield unless there is a spike in coronavirus cases.
After months of lockdown, shielded people will be able to return to work, to go to the shops, to exercise outside and visit places of worship, as long as they observe social distancing.
Children who are deemed clinically vulnerable can go back to school when term begins.
However the official advice is still to be careful as the risk of vulnerable people getting severely ill from coronavirus remains.
People are told to “stay at home as much as you can and continue to take precautions when you do go out”.
Regular handwashing, avoiding touching your face, and keeping two metres away from people outside is still advised.
Will the support end?
Free food parcels, medicine deliveries and care offered to shielded people will stop from August 1.
But vulnerable people can still rely on help from NHS Volunteer Responders to pick up their groceries and prescriptions.
You can still get priority slots for online shopping if you are already registered.
What had already changed on July 6?
Vulnerable people were given the go ahead to meet up with up to five friends after months without being allowed to socialise.
The Government announced shielded people could form support bubbles with one other household – allowing people to meet inside and outside without social distancing.
Those shielding were told they no longer needed to social distance from people living in their own household.
What if I am worried about going back to work?
The Government guidance says vulnerable people can return to work if they cannot work from home.
Employers must ensure that social distancing measures are in place.
If you are able to work from home then your boss is expected to help you to do so.
From August 1, shielded people will no longer be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay unless they develop symptoms – in line with the rest of the population.
If you cannot work from home, you may be eligible for other forms of leave – but it is at your employer’s discretion.
What about in care homes?
Lots of people living in care homes remain vulnerable to coronavirus.
Care providers are told to discuss the shielding advice with residents and their families to ensure all necessary precautions are taken.
There is separate advice on keeping residents safe.
Staff working in care homes should continue to follow strict social distancing measures, including handwashing and wearing protective kit.
Where can I get more information and support?
The Government is expected to publish new guidance on shielding when the changes take effect,
In the meantime, you can call NHS Volunteer Responders on 0808 196 3646 (8am to 8pm) for a friendly chat or to ask for assistance.