Almost four million of the most vulnerable people enjoyed their first day of freedom yesterday as shielding advice ended.
Strict ‘stay indoors’ guidance was given to 2.2million individuals at the start of the pandemic, with an extra 1.7million told to shield in February after scientists identified additional risk factors.
They were told to stay at home and not go to work, leaving only for medical appointments and exercise.
But with the vast majority of those shielding now vaccinated and infections falling, millions are now able to venture outside again and begin their slow return to normality.
Shielding was put in place in March, paused at the end of July and returned in January. However, many have chosen to shield almost constantly for the past year.
With the vast majority of those shielding now vaccinated and infections falling, millions are now able to venture outside again (file photo)
Some 126,000 people were contacted in error and wrongly told to shield during the first lockdown, a National Audit Office report found in February.
It came as the extra 1.7million were asked to stay indoors after a new model was developed that takes into account extra factors rather than just health. The calculation included risk factors such as ethnicity and weight.
Clinically extremely vulnerable people who were told to shield included those who have had a transplant, specific cancers or severe respiratory conditions.
Charities warned that many of those who have been indoors could be feeling anxious as the advice ends.
Shielding was put in place in March, paused at the end of July and returned in January. However, many have chosen to shield almost constantly for the past year (file photo)
Jacqueline Ali of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust said: ‘Most people with cystic fibrosis have now been offered the vaccine but they remain clinically extremely vulnerable so concerns are still high.
‘It is vital that the Government sets out in a timely manner what measures will be in place to protect and provide support to people with cystic fibrosis, and all who are clinically extremely vulnerable, as restrictions ease.’
Steven McIntosh of Macmillan Cancer Support said: ‘It will be the responsibility of Government and employers to make sure the most vulnerable in our society continue to be protected as this lockdown eases.’
Jab was a weight off my shoulders
Student Lucy Baxter was excited to spend time with her friends again after a year of shielding with her parents.
The 23-year-old has cystic fibrosis so she and her parents have been isolating at home on and off since last March.
Miss Baxter, who is doing a masters in broadcast journalism at Salford University, spent her first day of freedom yesterday visiting a friend.
She said: ‘I went to sit in my friend’s garden – that was exciting. I feel better because I’ve had my first vaccination and I’m having my next one next Wednesday so I feel a bit less nervous about meeting up outside with people.
Excited: Lucy Baxter, 23, was shielding because of her cystic fibrosis. She and her parents have been isolating at home on and off since last March
‘The pivotal moment was when I had my vaccine. I immediately felt a pressure off my shoulders.’
Miss Baxter, who lives in New Longton, Lancashire, said shielding during the first lockdown was ‘very, very strict’.
‘It was just me, my mum and my dad and they both went straight to working from home,’ she said. ‘It was very tricky from March to June because we weren’t even allowed out for a walk.
‘We have a field opposite the house that we own and I would walk in there so I was very fortunate to have a lot of space but it was still hard.’
She said the toughest part was not seeing her boyfriend properly for so long. For the first 25 weeks of the first lockdown, she only saw him when he would ‘come to the house outside and I’d stay up in my bedroom window and it was a bit like Romeo and Juliet!’
She also found lockdown difficult because she’s an only child so has been ‘with the same people for a year’.
Despite the isolation, Miss Baxter has been busy getting a first in her undergraduate degree and training to become a Zumba instructor.
I felt like a prisoner in my own home
Keisha Meek felt like a prisoner in her own home when she had to stay indoors.
The 29-year-old suffers from a rare form of endometriosis on her lungs and has been shielding on and off for the past year.
The NHS project analyst said: ‘It has been scary. Up until I had the vaccine I was panicking all the time that I would end up getting it. It has been frightening.
Optimistic: Keisha Meek, 29, suffers from a rare form of endometriosis on her lungs and has been shielding on and off for the past year. She has had her first jab and now feels more confident going out
‘If I had to shield again I don’t think I could do it, it’s too much.’ Miss Meek, who lives with her partner in Bingley, West Yorkshire, struggled with her mental health.
She said: ‘I had a breakdown in January and took myself to the hospital. They gave me emergency counselling.
‘The first period of shielding in the first lockdown was the toughest to cope with.
‘The Government was sending me text messages telling me not to touch my dustbin and not to go out. I literally felt like a prisoner in my own house. I wasn’t getting any fresh air or anything for all that time.’
Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places. Miss Meek has had her first jab and now feels more confident going out. She said she was looking forward to hugging her grandparents and getting her hair cut but will continue to be careful for now.