By Q Radio News.
The shielding period in Northern Ireland for around 80,000 people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 is ending today in Northern Ireland.
These people will be allowed to leave their homes for the first time since March due to the low prevalence of the virus in the community here.
However, officials have said this advice could change if the level of virus increases of the coming months.
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “It has been a long road for those who have been shielding at home because their medical condition placed them at particular risk from Covid-19.
“While shielding comes to a halt this Friday, we all have a duty to support our fellow citizens and help them resume everyday activities."
“That certainly includes wearing face coverings in shops and other indoor settings. Consider it an act of solidarity with your friends and neighbours.
“Many of those who have been shielding will understandably be nervous about their leaving their homes.
“We can all play our part in assuring them, by showing kindness and consideration. That means keeping our distance and giving them space and time.
“A good rule of thumb is to assume everyone we encounter may have been shielding. Strict social distancing remains absolutely vital.”
The Health Minister said now that those most vulnerable to the virus are no longer shieldin, there is an increased need for people to wear face masks.
“The medical and scientific case has become increasingly compelling. Covering up is the right thing to do and the more of us who do it, the safer we all will be.
“We must also, of course, recognise and respect that because of underlying health problems some people will not be able to wear face coverings.”
Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride said: “I want to thank those who have been shielding for following public health advice. I realise how difficult a time this has been for you and your families. Your actions have undoubtedly saved lives.
The shielding period in Northern Ireland comes to an end today for 80,000 people, who haven’t been alllowed to leave their homes since March.— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) July 31, 2020
Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride had this message to those who have been shielding: pic.twitter.com/iC73YLkxyM
“It is important to continue to be really careful after shielding is paused and to remain very strict about social distancing and hand hygiene.
“While the risk of catching Covid-19 has significantly reduced, it has not disappeared. If you were shielding then you remain more vulnerable than the general population.
“So minimise the risks as much as possible: keep your distance, wash your hands before touching your face, especially if you touch hard surfaces if you are out, and avoid enclosed spaces as much as possible.
“The rest of us must provide all the support we can – not least through wearing face coverings when appropriate.”
The Chief Medical Officer said people who have been shielding should decide what to do at their own pace and in their own time.
“There are some who will be greatly relieved on Friday and others who will remain very anxious.
“People should make their own informed choices for themselves. There is always a degree of risk in contacts with the outside world but these have reduced and can be mitigated further by following the advice and by us all maintaining social distancing.
“It also has to be remembered that remaining indoors indefinitely is detrimental to everyone’s physical and mental health.”