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Staying safe - FAQs

We understand that this is a difficult and uncertain time, particularly when you’re responsible for the welfare of others. 

Below we have answers to some common questions about how to stay safe.

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Last updated: 25 November 2020 11:04

What is the latest advice on how to protect those who are most vulnerable to the virus?

At the moment, you are advised to avoid using public transport, going to the shops or going to work if you are clinically vulnerable. It is vital to take extra care and all necessary precautions. See this guidance for more details: in England, in Scotland, in Wales, or in Northern Ireland.

See information about support services below or turn to your local council (or Trust in Northern Ireland) using our local directory if you need to find their contact details:

Some carers are worried about having to prove they are a carer during the pandemic in order to travel and demonstrate they are exempt to certain rules. Many local authority areas run different ID schemes. Look at your local carers’ organisation or local authority website to see what is available:

If there is not a scheme in place, contact your GP practice or ask at your local NHS Trust, if the person you are looking after is under their care, and ask for a standard letter identifying you as a carer. 

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Can I visit people for care purposes?

You can leave home to visit people in your support bubble/extended household. 

If you need to provide essential care for vulnerable people, you are permitted to visit them and you can receive necessary respite care. You can also accompany them to medical appointments if you need to, taking cautionary measures.

Everyone can also exercise outdoors or visit an outdoor public place like a park, but only with one person from another household in England (or only with your own household/bubble in Wales and Northern Ireland). In Scotland, a tiered system of localised restrictions apply - follow the guidance in your local area.

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Can I still visit and look after my elderly father who has complex health needs and lives in a different house?

You can continue to visit your father in his home, and accompany him to appointments or go outdoors with him if he wishes (if it is just the two of you) – you do not have to have formed a support bubble with him.

The latest guidance states that if you are a carer in a lockdown area under COVID-19 restrictions, you can continue to leave the house to provide essential care to someone who is vulnerable. However you must be careful to take every precaution possible, such as wearing a face covering and taking stringent hygiene measures.

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What’s the latest advice on shielding in lockdown areas?

You may have been caring for someone shielding, or shielding yourself, until August and wonder what the situation is now. See: What is the latest advice on protecting the most vulnerable to the virus?

For more information, see the following further guidance:

England        Scotland      Wales      Northern Ireland

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How can I keep myself and loved ones safe through contact tracing?

You can now download a free official app to protect you and your loved ones and be prepared in your area. In England and Wales, this is the NHS COVID-19 app, while in Scotland, this is called Protect Scot.

In Northern Ireland, the new test and trace app, called the StopCOVID NI Proximity App, can be found here

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What's the latest guidance on face coverings?

Across the UK, use of face coverings is now compulsory in many public places such as in shops and on public transport. Additionally, you must wear a mask if you are visiting someone in a hospital or care home or attending an appointment.

See this page for more guidance on when to wear a face covering, noting that some different rules apply across the nations. For example in Scotland, there are some additional places where you are required to wear a face covering – further details are available here.   

What happens if I can't wear a face covering or the person I care for can't because of their age, a disability or medical reason?

Exemptions for the use of face coverings do apply if you have certain health conditions or disabilities, where wearing one causes problems. There are exemption cards available to help, such as those found via the link on this page or recommended on the Hidden Disabilities site: Here are some other printable options on the site.

The age range of children who are exempt differs across the UK. For more guidance about exemptions in different parts of the UK, please refer to the following pages: EnglandNorthern IrelandScotland and Wales. (Note – you are not required to carry medical evidence to prove why you are exempt, but you may find it helpful to carry a note to help explain.)

In schools
In Scotland, young people at secondary school have been required to wear face coverings in communal areas where social distancing is difficult since 31 August. Since 1 September, this measure has also applied in secondary schools in England in local lockdown areas.

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We were shielding – what support is available for us now?

In England, if you are at higher risk from COVID-19 and need support or you are caring for someone who is vulnerable, the NHS Responder Scheme can continue to provide support. Call 0808 196 3646 to make a referral for anyone you care for or to seek support for yourself. The scheme can help arrange collections of prescriptions, and other medication and food and there are volunteers who can be contacted for a chat over the phone if you or someone you care for is feeling lonely. If you have been affected by coronavirus, you can also visit

In Scotland, you can continue to receive key updates through the SMS Shielding Service. The service will carry on for as long as it’s needed as will the national helpline. You can call the National Helpline on 0800 111 4000 if you are vulnerable and do not have a network of family or friends to turn to or community support. Both practical assistance and emotional support are available. Read more on If you have been affected by coronavirus, you can also visit

In Wales priority slots for online supermarket shopping remain in place, despite shielding being paused on 16 August. The prescriptions delivery service for those who have been shielding will also continue until the end of September. Any health or social care services you're already receiving, through you local authority, will continue. If you have been affected by coronavirus, you can also visit

In Northern Ireland, you can continue to access advice, help and guidance by contacting the Covid-19 Community Helpline by calling 0808 802 0020, emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or texting: ACTION to 81025. If you have been affected by coronavirus, you can also visit

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Can I be prioritised for COVID-19 testing as a carer?

Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus is eligible for a test and this can be requested through the NHS website, whether you're in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. You can apply on someone else's behalf online, with their permission, if they are not able to.

The government has included unpaid carers in their latest list of essential workers who can be prioritised for COVID-19 testing in England and Scotland. You do not need to bring identification to prove you are an unpaid carer. If you book a specific slot at a regional testing site or mobile testing unit, you will receive an email and text confirmation with a QR code. You will need to bring the QR code, either on your smartphone or on the print-out of the email, to the coronavirus test appointment.

Find out more about about how to get tested, the process and what types of test are available on this page.

'Trace and test' systems have been launched across the UK to help contain the spread of the virus – read more


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How do I contact my GP if the person I care for is unwell or if I need medical advice?

It's vital to still seek medical advice when needed for other medical issues too. You can call your GP surgery or contact them via their website. They can then arrange for you to have a phone consultation with your GP who will be happy to advise you on next steps. It's important not to wait if you have any doubts at all about your health or the health of someone you care for.

You should only visit a surgery if advised to by your doctor. However, do not hesitate to call 999 in an emergency. The NHS website also has some useful guidance on taking care of yourself and others. 

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Is the person I care for at particular risk from coronavirus?

If you think the person you care for is at high risk, it is worth contacting their GP (if they are unable to) to verify whether they should be taking additional protective measures. It is best to take precautions if you have any doubts in the meantime, and follow the NHS advice

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What is a support bubble or extended household?

If you live alone or alone with dependent children (aged under 18), you can form what has been termed as a ‘support bubble’ ('extended household' in Scotland) with one other household which can be of any size. 

This means that you can spend time in each other’s households for company and support – including overnight – and do not need to follow the social distancing rule with each other.

Once you've formed your 'support bubble'/ 'extended household', you can't change who is part of it. The website has more details, covering the extra measures you would need to take, here. Refer to this guidance if you live in Scotland. 

Note that you can continue to visit a clinically vulnerable person inside if you are providing care or assistance to them, ensuring you are following extra precautions, such as regularly washing your hands, cleaning surfaces frequently, and minimising contact as much as possible.

What if someone in the ‘support bubble’/'extended household' shows symptoms of coronavirus?

If anyone from either household displays any symptoms of coronavirus, everyone in each of the households would need to stay at home and follow this guidance. If someone within a ‘support bubble’/ 'extended household' is contacted by the test and trace system or test and protect system, they would need to stay at home and if they then become symptomatic, again all included in the group would need to isolate to stay safe and save lives.

What is allowed over Christmas?

Over the Christmas period, it is possible for three households to come together for a limited duration of time between 23 and 27 December. (If you are travelling to or from Northern Ireland, it is possible to travel on 22 or 28 December.) Read more.

Does this change the social distancing guidance in general?

No. This does not affect the general guidance advising all to stay at home as much as possible, especially if you are very vulnerable to the coronavirus. It's important to bear in mind that there are different rules that apply in different nations as explained here.

Understandably, it may not be possible to follow the rules around strict social distancing if you are providing essential care to someone. This page provides further guidance.

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What guidance is there about those who are at most risk?

The UK Government has issued guidance about who is at increased risk from coronavirus (COVID-19). You need to be particularly careful about staying away from others (social distancing) if you are 70 or older (with or without medical conditions) or if you are younger than 70 and have underlying health conditions, including long-term respiratory diseases and long-term heart disease, such as heart failure. See the full list on the website. 

The Scottish Government has also produced information about specific conditions and risk. There are separate versions for those who are shielding and those who are not. If you live in Scotland, you may wish to follow this guidance here

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I desperately need a break from caring - what can I do?

You can arrange with family or friends for someone else to provide the care you normally provide to the person you care for, to enable you to take a break. This could include someone coming into the home of the person you care for, which can be overnight.

This also means that the person you care for can go to someone else’s home to receive care to give you a break from caring, which can also be overnight. In all cases, the arrangement must be reasonably necessary for the purpose of respite care being provided for the person being cared for.  

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What is the latest news on the vaccine?

When will I get a vaccine?

With the hope of a coronavirus vaccine becoming more of a reality over the coming months, there are many questions around who will be prioritised and when. Presently those who are likely to be vaccinated first (from December) are those who are most at risk including older people, those living in care homes, and frontline health and social care staff.

This priority list is only provisional at the current time and further details are expected to be released over the coming month. By spring, it is hoped that most over 50s will be able to receive the vaccine. You can find out more about this here. In Scotland, the Health Secretary's statement provides a clear picture of the current situation. 

Will I need to pay?

You will not need to pay for the vaccine. It will be rolled out through the NHS and you will be notified about the process of getting one. It is advisable to be wary of any schemes suggesting that paying is necessary which are likely to be scams.

Will the Covid vaccine be safe?

The vaccine cannot be approved by the UK regulator (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency - MHRA) until it has been rigorously tested to meet the highest safety standards. Therefore, once it reaches the stage of public roll out, we can be assured that it has met these standards.

The UK Government has indicated that there is plenty of available vaccine for everyone in the UK, but the roll-out programme must be gradual, prioritising those who are deemed most vulnerable.

How will this work alongside the flu vaccine? Will we need to leave a gap?

The current recommendation is that there should be a gap of at least seven days in between the vaccines according to the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation).

You will be contacted directly when it is possible for you, or those you care for, to receive the vaccine and it is important to discuss any concerns you might have with a medical professional.

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