Any proposal to ask people to remain in their homes on the basis of their age would be likely to prompt a significant backlash. Lord Sumption, the former Supreme Court judge, has stated that shielding the old and vulnerable until a successful vaccine is developed would amount to “a cruel mockery of basic human values”.
An option believed to be under discussion as part of the proposed scheme is encouraging “shielding afternoons” or “shielding hours” for the most vulnerable to access shops and services without fearing that they could come into contact with those who have been freely moving around. The option comes after supermarkets introduced priority shopping hours for the elderly and vulnerable at the beginning of the national lockdown in March.
Scientists have also suggested that such a programme would require “very intensive screening” of care home staff, hospital medics, and members of a shielded person’s household, to ensure that those coming into contact with them are unlikely to transmit the virus.
An early proposal for enhanced shielding was set out in a paper by University of Edinburgh scientists in April.
They stated: “If Covid-19 was circulating only in the non-vulnerable population then the NHS could easily cope with the levels of mild disease, some hospitalisations and occasional critical care. Numbers of deaths would be low.
“Therefore, if we could greatly reduce the incidence of infection in the vulnerable group the epidemic could be manageable. Shielding is intended to reduce the incidence; to do more we need ‘enhanced shielding.”
Another option under consideration is to prevent Londoners from travelling outside of the M25 in the event of a major spike in the capital. Quarantine measures for travellers landing in the UK could also be increased, on the basis that the first wave in the country began after a significant number of cases were imported from abroad.
The Government is also thought to be considering implementing a national ban on people from different households meeting indoors, in the event that official figures show a continued rise of infections across the country, and test and trace figures suggest that such social contact is partly responsible.
Last week Lord Sumption called for the population to be allowed to make “our own personal risk assessments in the light of our age and state of health and the sort of activities in which we engage.”
Writing in The Telegraph, he stated: “For some people, social distancing will remain a sensible precaution. The rest of us should respect their choice but drop it and get on with our lives. We cannot keep running away.”