Health Minister Robin Swann has announced plans to pause the shielding advice that was issued to people ahead of the Covid-19 peak in Northern Ireland.
From 31 July, subject to the rate of community transmission continuing to be low, people will no longer need to shield and should instead follow the same guidance and precautions as those considered to be generally vulnerable. That involves taking particular care when out and about - and strictly maintaining social distancing.
Letters will be issued in the coming days to all those covered by shielding informing them of the planned change.
Mr Swann stated: “I have been clear that shielding would not last one minute longer than it needed to. We have now reached the point where, if the current trends continue, there will be no need for anyone to shield after 31 July.
“I have listened to many of you and to the challenges you have faced during this period. I am in no doubt as to the difficulties shielding has presented for a great many people.
“It is unrealistic to think these difficulties will just vanish because the need to shield has ended. That is why the letters we issue will provide details of the support which will continue to be available up to and after 31 July.
“While my announcement today will be welcome news for many who are shielding, some will view the prospect of an end to shielding with great anxiety. I want to assure them that they should decide what to do at their own pace. Everyone will approach this situation differently.
“As is so often the case at present, this will be about weighing up the options and making informed choices. Going outside can bring some degree of potential risk but this can be mitigated and minimised by strict social distancing. Staying indoors indefinitely is not good for anyone’s mental or physical health.
“Finally, I would ask everyone to be considerate as people end their periods of shielding.
"We should all continue to social distance, but in the coming weeks I want you to be particularly understanding of the fact you might be encountering someone who has had to stay at home for many weeks. Please be aware of this, show respect and kindness to all and keep your distance.”