Most children will now be removed from England’s coronavirus shielding list, the Government has announced.
Evidence that those younger get much less severe symptoms means all but a small number of extremely vulnerable children will be removed from the order to stay home.
Most other children who were initially identified as being clinically extremely vulnerable will no longer be considered at highest risk.
These include children with conditions such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy and kidney disease.
Also, from today, shielding people can go out and meet up to five friends in a socially distanced way.
After shielding was announced eventually 2.2 million people were added to the list.
Of these 94,000 were aged under 19 and most of these will soon now be removed.
A small group of children who receive specialist care in hospitals may need to carry on shielding following a consultation with their doctor.
This includes those receiving cancer care or those at risk of severe infection due to an immunodeficiency.
Children and young people should continue to shield until July 31 when shielding is paused for everyone in England. Specialists and GPs will be asked to contact children and families to discuss the new guidance over the summer.
Dr Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said: “I do not underestimate the difficulty of children having to stay indoors and to only have limited contact with family and friends for such a long time.
“As our understanding of this novel virus has developed, evidence shows most children and young people are at low risk of serious illness and will no longer be advised to shield after July.
“Families who are uncertain about whether shielding is right for their child in the future will want to discuss this with their doctor, who will be best placed to determine the most appropriate care.
“These discussions will take place over the summer.”
What will change from July 6
From Monday 6 July, there are two major changes for all 2.2million people who are shielding in England.
Firstly, people who are shielding are able to join gatherings of up to six people outdoors.
These gatherings can be from up to six different households – but anyone from separate households must maintain a 2-metre distance.
This follows the rules that were unveiled for the rest of England from June 1.
Secondly, people who are shielding and live alone (or are single parents) will be able to join the ‘support bubble’ system topair up permanently with one other household.
They will be able to break the two-metre rule with people inside their bubble to hug and kiss.
One of the two households – the shielded household – must be a “single-adult” household. The other household can have an unlimited number of people.
What will change from August 1?
From Saturday 1 August, the 2.2million clinically vulnerable people in England will officially be told they no longer have to shield from the virus.
It will bring to an end a period of isolation lasting more than four months.
While they should strictly follow social distancing rules, they will be able to go back to work if they cannot work from home, and visit shops and places of worship.
Why were vulnerable children told to shield?
Initially several thousand children and young people were advised to shield because their pre-existing conditions were considered likely to increase their risk.
Decisions on whether someone would be included on the shielding list were made by GPs and it was compiled over a matter of weeks.
Government scientists now believe it is safe to whittle it down to all but the sickest children.
This will allow some youngsters the chance to go outdoors for the first time in months.
Dr Mike Linney, Registrar at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said: “Lockdown has been tough on children generally, but especially for those who have been shielding.
“It’s been a long haul for thousands of families, and we hope this announcement brings some relief.
“Fortunately children are less affected by Covid-19. This appears to be the case not just in the UK but world-wide.
“However, they have suffered from the social effects of lock down, isolation, and school closures.
“We know that many families who have been shielding will have concerns. The important point of this guidance is that paediatricians and specialist doctors now have better information to discuss shielding with patients and their families.
“Children under the sole care of a GP are very unlikely to need to continue shielding, but if you are worried, seek reassurance.
“Should we face a second wave, this guidance will allow us to make better decisions about who needs to shield.
“It was right to be cautious when we knew so little about the virus, but we now have a lot of evidence to guide us.
“We can be confident that the vast majority of children and young people don’t need to shield.”
Parents with a child who is shielding should arrange an appointment with their GP.
The new information on the risk in children comes at the same time as broader shielding advice is relaxed from Monday.
This advises those shielding that they may now, if they wish, gather in groups of up to six outdoors and form support bubbles with another household if they live on their own or are a single parent.
Children and young people should continue to shield until 31 July.