Millions of people most vulnerable to coronavirus have been advised to go shopping at “quieter times of the day” after England’s lockdown ends on Monday.
New guidance for 3.7 million clinically extremely vulnerable people has been issued as Boris Johnson’s government confirmed restrictions will be lifted.
The new government advice reads: “Clinically extremely vulnerable people are now advised to follow the guidance that applies to the rest of the population. You may still wish to consider going to the shops and pharmacy at quieter times of the day.”
This comes after priority access to supermarket delivery slots, through the government's Shielding Support website, ended on 21 June. The new advice says: "You can continue to book delivery slots in the usual manner from a supermarket."
The guidance also advises clinically extremely vulnerable people to avoid others who are unvaccinated.
It states “precautions” should be taken before meeting people they do not usually see, including considering “whether you and those you are meeting have been vaccinated”.
It also says people should “meet outside if possible” due to the lower risk of COVID-19 transmission.
The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) research, issued on Tuesday, suggested 65% of clinically extremely vulnerable people are continuing to follow precautionary guidance, while 29% are shielding.
Watch: Johnson stresses ‘pandemic is not over’ as he confirms 19 July lockdown easing
Shielding was the policy used earlier in the pandemic when clinically extremely vulnerable people were told to stay at home at all times. This ended on 1 April.
The Liberal Democrats said the latest guidance amounted to “shielding by the backdoor”.
“It’s ridiculous to expect the clinically extremely vulnerable to know who is vaccinated and who is not,” the party said on Tuesday.
“The government needs to issue proper guidance and support and stop overlooking the most vulnerable.”
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said the so-called “freedom day” on Monday will be “fear day” for clinically extremely vulnerable people.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the test of whether to ease restrictions should have been seen from the perspective of those most at risk from COVID infection.
Charities representing people with weakened immune systems have previously expressed dismay that members of the public will be able to ditch face masks from next week.
The government said in its new advice that some people “may wish to think particularly carefully about additional precautions you might wish to continue to take”.
The latest ONS research, meanwhile, also suggested only 37% of clinically extremely vulnerable people feel comfortable or very comfortable going to hospitality, cultural or educational settings. Some 13% reported feeling lonely, compared to 6% of the general population.
Clinically extremely vulnerable people include organ transplant recipients; people with specific cancers; people with severe respiratory conditions; people with rare diseases that increase the risk of infections; people on immunosuppression therapies; people with spleen problems; adults with Down syndrome; adults on dialysis or with chronic kidney disease; and women who are pregnant with significant heart disease.
Watch: Tuesday's politics briefing