Vulnerable people in England who have been asked to remain at home since the coronavirus lockdown began are to be allowed outdoors once a day with members of their household from Monday.
Those living alone will be able to meet one other person from another household while maintaining social distancing.
The guidance – in place for 10 weeks – had indicated shielding measures would remain until 30 June.
Support for shielders, such as food and medicine deliveries, will continue.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick will announce the details at Sunday’s government Downing Street press conference.
Around 2.2 million people were asked to stay at home as lockdown began, because they were identified as being at particularly high risk of needing hospital treatment for coronavirus symptoms.
Most were notified by their GP.
They included solid organ transplant recipients, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, pregnant women with heart disease and people with severe respiratory conditions such as cystic fibrosis and severe asthma.
Not all elderly people were asked to shield.
Some were later removed from the shielding list if they no longer met the requirements.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “thousands of lives” had been saved by those who had shielded themselves.
“We have been looking at how we can make life easier for our most vulnerable, so today I am happy to confirm that those who are shielding will be able to spend time outside with someone else, observing social distance guidelines,” he said.
Some scientists have expressed concerns about England’s easing of lockdown rules while infection rates remain at around 8,000 per day according the Office for National Statistics.
“Many of us would prefer to see the incidence down to lower levels before we relax measures,” said Professor John Edmunds, from the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine and one of the government’s top advisors.
“Covid-19 spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England,” tweeted Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust.
England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam said the consensus among scientists was that the new measures were not expected to push the rate of infection above the key R value of 1.0.
However, he urged the public to be “sensible and proportionate with the freedom we have wanted to give people”, saying the UK is “at a dangerous moment” and the easing of lockdown “has to go slowly”.
Reacting to the change, Phil Anderson from the MS Society said thousands of the more than 130,000 people with MS in the UK had been feeling “forgotten” after months of shielding.
He said they were concerned the news had come “out of the blue” and extremely vulnerable people would want to hear “a lot more about the scientific evidence showing this will be safe for them”.
He also called for better mental health support for everyone who needs it.
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