Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick announced today that those who had been told they must stay home for their own safety, and were not even able to venture to the shops, would now be able to go outside with members of their household, while continuing to follow social distancing guidelines.
And those who live alone can meet outside with one other person from another household.
Mr Jenrick said: “This will enable those shielding to see loved ones like children and grandchildren, something many I know are aching to do.
“Having spent many weeks indoors some will understandably be very cautious and concerned about going outdoors. You should only do what you are comfortable with.”
But he said if future reviews saw coronavirus rates creeping higher, the group could be asked to stay inside for a stretch of time yet again.
He said: “If the conditions become less favourable our advice to those being asked to shield will unfortunately need to be tightened. The Government will continue to ensure that support is available to those who need it for as long as possible and for as long as people are advised to follow the shielding guidance.”
He said, while the updated guidance from today for the shielded is for England only, the Government is working closely with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland “who will issue their own guidance in due course”.
But charities called for the scientific evidence behind the decision to be made clear and urged more help.
Steven McIntosh, director of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said the decision was “a step forward” for a group who “have felt left behind and forgotten” as lockdown is eased for others in England.
He said: “For many, it’ll be welcome advice that they can now choose to go outside for exercise or to meet people whilst socially distancing.
“But they still face heavy restrictions like being advised to avoid food shopping, going to pharmacies or their workplaces.
“The Government also hasn’t yet delivered its commitment to provide greater help to this extremely vulnerable group, and Macmillan has heard from people living with cancer that existing ‘shielding’ support isn’t getting through.
“So the Government must now set out how they will guarantee the needs of the most vulnerable and isolated are met.”
When asked why lockdown rules are being relaxed ahead of the UK reaching the green Level 3 of the Covid alert system, Mr Jenrick said the latest steps are “cautious, modest ones entirely consistent with the message the Prime Minister delivered”.