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Coronavirus: ‘social distancing’ for vulnerable people

12:00am | & Health

Coronavirus is dominating the news and many people are understandably concerned about their own health and that of loved ones as the disease continues to spread in the UK.

For the latest news on coronavirus (officially called Covid-19) and advice on what precautions to take, tune in to TV and radio bulletins or visit reliable online sources such as the NHS website or the official Government website for coronavirus information.

There are two main sets of advice at the moment. The first is for people who think they have caught the virus or been in contact with someone who has it. The second is about taking all sensible precautions to avoid catching it, especially if you’re in a ‘vulnerable’ group. Those classed as vulnerable are people over 70 or adults with an underlying health condition which could hamper their body’s response to the virus.

Looking specifically at this vulnerable group, the key advice is about ‘social distancing’ – wherever possible avoiding contact with other people who might have the virus or places where it might be present. It is expected that over the next few days the government (acting on the best available medical advice) will strongly advise vulnerable people to self-isolate for an extended period. That could be up to three months, and possibly more depending on how the outbreak develops.

That advice will apply to all over-70s and anyone with a pre-existing health condition which means they are normally invited for a free NHS annual flu jab. You can find more about what long-term (chronic) health conditions are covered by clicking here. The broad range includes:

  • Any long-term respiratory condition, including asthma, COPD, emphysema or bronchitis
  • Long-term heart disease, such as heart failure
  • Any long-term condition affecting the liver or kidneys
  • Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease or multiple sclerosis
  • Diabetes
  • Problems with the spleen, or if you’ve had your spleen removed
  • Pregnancy
  • Any medical treatment which suppresses or weakens the immune system, such as chemotherapy or taking steroid tablets.

In the next few days the NHS will directly contact anyone who is at particularly high risk if they contact coronavirus. But for now, anyone over 70 or with a medical condition which makes them more vulnerable should follow the advice on social distancing. It can be summarised as follows:

  • Stay at home as much as possible, avoiding all non-essential trips or travel
  • If you work, see if you can work from home
  • Avoid non-essential face-to-face contact with other people, including friends, family and neighbours. Instead, stay in touch by phone, email, texts etc.
  • Avoid social gatherings or settings such as pubs, restaurants, cinemas or shopping centres
  • Use the phone or internet whenever possible instead of going out or having direct contact with other people. This includes things like doing online shopping or contacting your GP.
  • Phone people who can help you with things like collecting prescriptions or doing shopping, which they can leave on your doorstep.

If you are self-isolating you should continue to practise good hygiene and if you display any symptoms of coronavirus you should phone the NHS 111 line or use the NHS 111 online service to seek further advice. Symptoms include a fever (high temperature) followed by a persistent dry cough which can lead to breathing problems.

Remember, only a small proportion of people who catch coronavirus will experience severe symptoms. The death rate is estimated at only around 1 to 2% of all cases, but if you are classed as vulnerable you should take all possible precautions to avoid catching it.

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