COVID-19 and Shielding

2nd June 2020

Shielding advice in Northern Ireland.

On Monday 1st June the Northern Irish Executive announced that those who were advised to shield during the coronavirus lockdown could be able to go outdoors again from Monday, 8 June; dependent on the R-number being below one when ministers meet on Thursday.

More than 80,000 people in Northern Ireland, who are recognised to be the most vulnerable to COVID-19 received a shielding letter from the Department of Health advising them to remain indoors for 12 weeks.

Should you have questions as to whether you can stop shielding you or about when outside social distancing laws should be adhered to, should speak to your GP.

Are you shielding? Or do you provide support for someone who needs to shield?

We want to hear from you

Approximately 80,000 people in Northern Ireland have been impacted by the advice to shield.

The Patient and Client Council wants to hear from those who have been advised to shield due to the risks of COVID-19, and those who are supporting them.

The purpose of this engagement is to understand the impact shielding has had on individuals, to inform the steps and processes that must be considered now and in the future, and to ensure that the voice of those impacted by shielding is heard. .
This is the beginning of a constant conversation.

To complete the survery see here

Or should you can download the survey here and post it back to us at Freepost, Patient and Client Council or email it to

Or you can complete the survery over the phone by calling 0800 917 0222.

If you do not want to shield

The restrictions imposed by shielding are difficult, both for you and for your family members and/or carers. If you have received a letter instructing you to stay at home and avoid face-to-face contact for 12 weeks; this is the safest thing to do to protect you from illness/complications of COVID-19.

This is guidance and whether you follow the guidance or not is a personal decision for you to make.

Before deciding, it is recommended that you discuss the matter with your GP or hospital specialist and with anyone who provides care for you. This may be particularly relevant for patients who are receiving end of life care. Please do talk to somebody before you decide what to do.

If you decide not to follow the shielding guidance, you should still follow the same social distancing and hygiene measures as everybody else

Shielding and Returning to work

Should you have received a letter advising that you should shield for 12 weeks it is advised that you speak to your employer as soon as possible

Employers should support staff that have been told to shield. This might be a distressing or difficult time, so it’s important for employers to keep in touch during any absence.

Any details about the employee’s medical condition must be kept confidential, unless the employee says they can be shared.

Read more about extremely vulnerable people and shielding measures on NI Direct.

Discrimination and unfair treatment

If you are still being asked to go out to work and believe you’re at risk because you are in one of the vulnerable groups, it’s important that you talk to your employer.

If you cannot follow guidance on social distancing at work or during travel to work, you should tell your employer you need to follow government advice and stay at home.

An employee is protected by law against unfair treatment and dismissal, if it’s because of:

  • pregnancy;
  • age; or
  • a health condition that’s considered a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act.

It does not matter how long they’ve worked for the employer.

It could be unlawful discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy, disability or age if an employer either:

  • unreasonably tries to pressure someone to go to work; or unreasonably disciplines someone for not going to work.