VULNERABLE people shielding in St Helens have been reassured it is safe to venture outside following a significant fall in the coronavirus infection rate.

Earlier this week, the government announced that millions of people who have spent the past three months shielding will be advised they can spend more time outside next month.

From Monday, July 6, those shielding from coronavirus can gather in groups of up to six people outdoors.

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Those who are shielding and live alone or are single parents with children will also be able to create a ‘support bubble’ with one other household of any size.

From Saturday, August 1, clinically extremely vulnerable people will be advised that they no longer need to shield, although support will remain available from NHS volunteers and from St Helens Borough Council.

In addition, those who need to work and cannot do so from home will be able to return to work from August 1 as long as their workplace is ‘COVID-secure’.

The reason the government has taken this step is because the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community is now lower and the chances of getting infected are significantly reduced.

Locally, the number of infections has slowed dramatically since the peak of the virus in April, when the infection rate was among the highest in England.

While the risk on infection is now far smaller than it was, people should continue to follow social distancing guidance when outside their homes and wash their hands regularly.

Professor Sarah O’Brien, executive director for people’s services and clinical accountable officer for St Helens CCG, said: “As changes in guidance for shielding patients which will change on Monday 6th July, I want to give reassurance to our vulnerable residents in St Helens.

“Infection rates are significantly lower than they were when we went into lockdown and this is particularly the case in St Helens so it is now safe for you to go out but please be sensible and ensure you observe the social distancing guidelines and wash your hands often with hot water and soap.

“Being able to go outdoors and to meet in a group of six people outdoors or form a support bubble with another household is particularly important from a health and wellbeing point of view, especially for those who have been unable to leave the house since March.

“We will continue to keep those on our shielded list updated as the government pauses shielding on 1st August, meaning you can go back to work, go out to buy food and children can return to their education settings.

“We’re continuing to work closely with the local authority and voluntary to ensure that if anyone needs help and support with food or medical supplies, we can signpost them to the appropriate support agencies.”

Another big change that is set to come in from July 4 is a relaxing of the two metre social distancing rule, to be replaced with ‘one metre plus’ guidance.

What this means is, in situations where maintaining two metres part is not possible, keeping one metre apart is ok if there are other measures being used, such as face masks or protective screens.

The one metre plus rule will be introduced primarily to help people in the hospitality trade and other businesses where keeping two metres is not viable.

But the advice from the government and from Sue Forster, director of Public Health in St Helens, is to continue to keep two metres apart where possible.

Ms Forster said: “Keeping ​a distance of at least two metres to anyone not part of your household or support bubble for single parent families or single people is still the guidance for everyone and wherever possible this should be the standard rule for us all.

“For those people who are shielding it is important that you stick to this guidance from July 6 when they are allowed to meet up to six people from other households outside only, at a two metre distance.

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“Where this may not be possible in certain circumstances the guidance is that mitigating measures must be put in place which may mean wearing face coverings, screens to separate areas or back to back seating.

“We all have a role to play in helping to reduce the spread of coronavirus and by following these steps, as well as practising good hand hygiene and isolating and getting tested if we display any of the symptoms – a new, continuous cough, a high temperature or a loss of taste or smell – we can further help to reduce the risk to ourselves and others.”

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