Coronavirus and COVID-19

What is social shielding and who needs to do this?

Some people, including children, with long-term lung conditions who are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus, are now advised to rigorously follow shielding measures to keep themselves safe.

Shielding is a way to protect people who are extremely vulnerable from coming into contact with coronavirus by minimising all interaction between them and other people.

The government has published advice for people who are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus. Most people with lung disease who are especially vulnerable to coronavirus have been contacted by letter or text message. But more letters may be sent following review by specialist clinicians and GPs and people identified in this way will get a letter shortly.

Current advice from government is:

  • If you have already got a letter or text, follow the social shielding guidance.
  • Hospital clinicians and GPs are reviewing the list of people who are extremely vulnerable from COVID-19, and more letters are being sent.
  • If you have not been contacted, stay at home and follow the social distancing rules for everyone. If you later receive a letter, follow shielding advice. 

If you have received a letter you should register with the government to tell them if you need coronavirus support  for vulnerable people who are shielding. You can register yourself, or on the behalf of someone else. You can do this online, or by calling 0800 0288327, the government’s dedicated helpline​.

The decision to shield is a deeply personal one. We are not able to advise individuals about whether they should shield or not.

We will update this information if we get any new information or if the guidance changes. We are working with the NHS and professional bodies to make sure people with long-term lung conditions get the best advice and support.

Who is regarded as extremely vulnerable?

People are regarded as extremely vulnerable if they are at very high risk of severe illness as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19), and may need be admitted to hospital. People with a range of long-term lung conditions are in this group if their condition is severe. 

What should people in this group do?

People who are extremely vulnerable should:

  • stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for at least 12 weeks, from the day they receive their letter. 
  • register with the government’s website. This will help you get support for activities such as getting food packages or medications. Even if you do not need any support with daily tasks, register to let the government know that. Support through this service may take some time to arrive. If it’s possible, continue to rely on family, friends and wider support to meet your needs.
  • get all essential items delivered, and have the person leave them at the door
  • use phone or online services to contact your GP or specialist or other services
  • at home, minimise all non-essential contact with people you live with
  • people who provide essential support to you, such as health care, personal support for daily needs and social care should continue to visit. But carers must stay away if they have any symptoms of coronavirus. Hand washing remains essential: all people coming to the house should wash their hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds when they arrive, and often while they are there.
  • if someone else lives with you they do not have to follow the shielding guidance. They should follow the social distancing guidance very closely and do what they can to support you.

Please read the detail in the government social shielding advice. This is the best way to protect people at particular risk of serious complications from coronavirus.

If you are in this group and think you have developed symptoms of coronavirus, such as a fever or new continuous cough, get advice from the NHS 111 online service or call NHS 111. Do this as soon as you get symptoms.

What if I think I’m in this group but I don’t get a letter or text?

Your own clinician is ultimately responsible for deciding whether to recommend you shield or not.

If you don’t get a letter, you should follow social distancing advice very carefully.

Some letters are still being sent out, so you may get a letter in the next week or so.

You may feel frustrated if you think you should be shielding, but your GP or your specialist does not agree. You can make the personal decision to shield but you won't be eligible for government support. You can get support from the mutual aid network and you should talk to your employer. This ACAS advice for employees who want to shield may be useful when talking to your employer. 

Please bear in mind shielding is a severe step to take

Think about the extra benefit you will get from shielding as opposed to social distancing and weigh it against the impact on your mental and physical wellbeing of the significant loss of social contact and staying at home for a long time. The government advises people to take these measures only when they’re absolutely necessary. There is also no government-organised food and medicine delivery service for people who do not get shielding letters.

If you have got a letter, but don’t think you are in the vulnerable group, get in touch with your GP or hospital clinician to discuss how you can stay safe at this time.

How will the National Shielding Helpline contact me?

While you are shielding, the government support service may get in touch with you by letter, email or phone. The team may call to understand your food and wellbeing needs. They will call from 0333 3050466 and identify themselves with their name and as a representative of the National Shielding Helpline. Early on, the team will also ask you to confirm some of your details to make sure they’re speaking to the correct person. Your local council may also be in touch.

We will update this advice if anything changes and we will continue to push for support for people with lung conditions who need to shield. We will also monitor how all guidance is being implemented to ensure people with lung conditions are sufficiently protected and supported.

What to read next:

Current on: Friday 10 April 2020
Last updated: Friday 10 April 2020

We hope you have found this content useful

We hope you have found this content useful. Our team of health experts is working tirelessly on a daily basis to provide the latest and most up to date health advice concerning coronavirus (COVID-19).

Record numbers of people now need our support. As a charity we solely rely on donations from people like you. We do not yet know if we will be eligible for government help. However our help and advice are only possible thanks to kind donations from people like you.

If you can, and are able, please donate now. Every pound will make a difference.


If you have concerns or need advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

We'll take good care of your personal info and you can update the way we contact you at any time - check out our privacy policy at to find out more.

Last medically reviewed: April 2020. Due for review: April 2020

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.