More than a million people most at risk of needing hospital treatment if they catch coronavirus are being asked to stay at home for at least 12 weeks.

The strategy is called “shielding” and the aim is to protect lives.

Why do it?
Cases of coronavirus are increasing rapidly in the UK, which suggests it is circulating in the community and spreading from person to person.

While everyone is being advised to keep their distance from other people to help stop the spread, some people with underlying health conditions need to take even more precautions to protect themselves.

Who should do it?
Those most at risk will receive letters or text messages from the NHS strongly advising them not to go out for 12 weeks.

At risk people include:

Solid organ transplant recipients
Some people with cancer who are undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy
People on immunosuppression drugs
Women who are pregnant and have heart disease
People with severe respiratory conditions – cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and COPD
Some people with rare diseases such as severe combined immunodeficiency

If you think you or a loved one are in this highest risk category and have not received a letter from the NHS by Sunday 29 March 2020 or been contacted by your GP, get in touch with your GP or hospital doctor by phone or online.

Is it compulsory?
Experts strongly advise people with serious underlying health conditions to follow the advice. If this applies to you, shielding is for your personal protection – it is your choice to decide whether to follow the recommendations.

You could call your doctor to discuss this.

What does it entail?
It means staying at home at all times. You should not go out to shop or go for a walk in public places – it is fine to go into your garden if you have one.

You should avoid any face-to-face contact, so that means no visitors.

Visits from people who provide you essential healthcare and personal support are fine. Carers and care workers should stay away if they have any of the symptoms of coronavirus and anyone coming into your home should keep their hands clean by washing with soap and water.

What about any people I live with?
They do not need to shield themselves but must make sure they follow recommendations to shield you.

They should stringently follow the guidance on social distancing – that means working from home, avoiding public transport and reducing their contact outside of the home.

They should also keep some physical distance (two metres) from you and keep to a minimum the time spent in shared spaces such as the kitchen, bathroom and lounge. Shared spaces should be kept well ventilated – open a window.

If you can, use a separate bathroom and bedroom from the rest of the household. Make sure you use separate towels from other people in your house.

If you share a toilet and bathroom, make sure they are cleaned after every use. Consider drawing up a rota for bathing, with you using the facilities first.

Use the kitchen when others are not in there and take your meals back to your room to eat. Coronavirus is spread through droplets (from coughs and sneezes), so do not share cutlery or crockery, unless it is clean. Use a dishwasher if you have one. Soap or washing up liquid and water gets rid of the virus too.

Keep surfaces that are frequently touched clean – door handles, taps and handrails.

What about my medicine and food?
Someone else should fetch these for you or you should get them delivered.

How long will shielding last?
The advice is for 12 weeks from the day you receive the recommendation. You will be contacted again if there are any updates to the advice.

What should I do if I get a cough or fever?
These are symptoms of coronavirus. It does not mean that you definitely have it, but you should contact the NHS 111 online coronavirus service or call NHS 111 or your doctor. Do this as soon as you get symptoms. Do not visit the GP, pharmacy, urgent care centre or hospital.
In an emergency, call 999 if you are seriously ill.

Other tips to stay safe and well

Good hygiene can stop the virus spreading:

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
Put used tissues in the bin immediately
Wash your hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds
Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
Keep physically active by exercising indoors or in your garden if that’s possible.

Look after your mental well-being. Stay in touch with friends on the phone, by post or online.

Prepare a hospital bag just in case – this should include your emergency contact, a list of medicines you take and any information on your planned care appointments as well as things you would need for an overnight stay, such as a toothbrush and pyjamas.