What are the risks from Covid?
When we first advised people to shield, it was to protect those thought to be most at risk of significant harm from Covid. But the longer shielding continues, the greater the harm from shielding itself.
The clinical risk from Covid comes in two parts: the risk of catching the virus, and of then becoming severely ill or dying from having caught the virus.
The 4 Chief Medical Officers in the UK sought to identify those people who would be at greatest risk if they caught Covid, based on the best evidence at the time, and have kept this under review. At first, as this is a new virus, there was limited data or evidence about which groups were most at risk. If we are to develop a sustainable approach to shielding – in the absence of effective treatment – we will need a much more detailed understanding of risk of individual conditions, how they relate to one another, and other risk factors such as age, ethnicity, and body mass index. That is why, together with the other 3 nations, we are reviewing the evidence, to develop better ways of identifying who is at highest risk. Over the summer we will work with our clinical and scientific advisers to turn this evidence into guidance that will allow those shielding to understand their individual risk and what steps they can take to mitigate it.
The chances of catching the virus depends on local conditions. The progression of the virus in Scotland is crucial, for the lower the chance of catching the virus in our communities, the less need there is to shield. This means that the future of shielding is closely linked to the success of our broader strategy of bringing the virus under control through the route map and Test and Protect. As the virus is contained effectively it will become safer for those who have been shielding to gradually get back to day to day life. There has been real and very positive progress on this front, but because the virus is still present we must continue to be cautious. Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making - Scotland's route map through and out of the crisis sets out the evidence for this.
The other route to reduce the chance of catching the virus, of course, is by developing and deploying a vaccine. But we must be aware that this could be some time in the future.