The Government updated its coronavirus guidance for the extremely clinically vulnerable just hours before Christmas Day.
With Omicron currently causing unprecedented levels of positive Covid tests and hospitals creaking under increased demand, Christmas Day may prove an anxious time for those at heightened risk from the virus.
Since the shielding programme ended on September 15, the Government has not asked those considered to be extremely clinically vulnerable in England to take any extra protective measures.
On Christmas Eve it released its first guidance to people at heightened risk from Covid since Omicron reached the UK.
A leading charity criticised the Government for its timing, arguing the advice came too late to have an impact this Christmas and that it will largely be missed.
The clinically vulnerable will not be asked to shield again, but they have been urged to follow a few steps to protect themselves.
“If you have not yet received the Covid-19 vaccine, you should get vaccinated,” the advice begins.
“Evidence indicates that 2 doses of a Covid-19 vaccine provide very effective protection against hospitalisation.
“It usually takes around 2 to 3 weeks for your body to develop its protective response.
“To maintain this high level of protection through the coming winter, you should also get a booster vaccine for Covid-19 when offered.”
The Government advises that the clinically extremely vulnerable also consider whether those they’re meeting this Christmas have been vaccinated.
“You might want to wait until 14 days after everyone’s most recent dose of a Covid-19 vaccine before being in close contact with others,” it is suggested.
Other advice includes…
considering continuing to practice social distancing if that feels right for you and your friends;
asking friends and family to take a rapid lateral flow antigen test before visiting you;
asking home visitors to wear face coverings;
avoiding enclosed crowded spaces.
The MS Society, which represents many immunosuppressed people in the UK, has criticised the Department of Health and Social Care for its timing.
Fredi Cavander-Attwood, the organisation’s policy manager, said: “For weeks, the rapidly rising number of Omicron cases has left people who are at higher risk from Covid-19 increasingly anxious.
“Today’s new guidance – despite being released late on Christmas Eve and arguably unlikely to be seen by those who need to – crucially acknowledges people who are immunosuppressed and less protected by vaccines, which includes some people living with MS.
“Thankfully many people will already be taking the steps outlined tonight to protect themselves – from asking friends and family to take lateral flow tests before meeting, to following advice to work from home where possible.
“What the Government must now do is ensure they act when their guidance isn’t working, especially around employment.
“It must make sure employers allow home working, as well as providing people at highest risk from Covid-19 financial support if they can’t work remotely.
“No one should be forced to choose between their health and their livelihood.”