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Looking after yourself while staying at home (shielding)

Everyone in the UK is being asked to take part in social distancing, and to self-isolate if they have symptoms of coronavirus. People with blood cancer are at a higher risk and are therefore asked to 'shield' themselves and stay at home for 12 weeks.

What is self-isolation, social distancing and shielding?

Last updated: 3 April 2020

Everyone in the UK is being told to limit their social interaction. But people with blood cancer are advised to be particularly stringent and 'shield' at home for 12 weeks.

Self-isolation - for people with symptoms

Self-isolation means staying away from other people because you have symptoms of coronavirus. You should not go out at all, except for exercise once a day as long as you are 2 meters away from anyone else. You should follow this advice for 7 days and anyone else you live with should follow this advice for 14 days. If someone vulnerable lives with you, they should stay somewhere else if possible for 14 days. If this isn't possible, you should keep away from each other in the house and not share things like towels or cutlery. The government provides more detailed advice on self-isolation if someone has coronavirus symptoms.

Social distancing - for everyone

Social distancing means avoiding interaction with other people as much as possible. Everyone in the UK is being told to do this. You should not go out at all, except to shop for basic essentials, to exercise once a day, for any medical need, or to travel to work (only when absolutely necessary). If you are over 70, have an underlying health condition, or are pregnant, you should follow the advice as strictly as you can. The government provides more detailed advice on social distancing for everyone in the UK.

Shielding - for people with blood cancer

Shielding means staying at home for 12 weeks because you are in the highest risk group. People in the highest risk group, including people with blood cancer, will get a letter or text directly from the NHS about this. If you are shielding, you should:

  • not leave the house at all, even for exercise
  • have someone else bring you supplies such as food and medication
  • take precautions at home if you live with other people who are still going out

The advice on this page is about how you can do this and how to look after yourself during this time. 

Staying at home (shielding yourself) for 12 weeks

Last updated: 3 April 2020

Adults and children with blood cancer may have a compromised immune system and therefore be at a higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus. If any of the following apply to you, you should be contacted directly by the NHS about staying at home for 12 weeks:

  • you currently have any type of blood cancer, whether you are having treatment or not
  • you have had an autologous transplant (using your own stem cells) in the last year
  • you have had an allogeneic transplant (using donor stem cells) in the last two years
  • you are on immunosuppression medication after a transplant, you have GvHD, or you have ongoing immunodeficiency after a transplant

There is more detail about who is included in this high-risk group on our page on coronavirus and blood cancer. If you fall into any of these categories, you are strongly advised to:

  • Stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for a period of at least 12 weeks from the day you receive your NHS letter.
  • This includes not going to shops or pharmacies, and not going out for exercise.


The advice to stay home and away from other people does not apply to any cancer treatment you need to have. Continuing your cancer treatment is a priority. Talk to your healthcare team if you have an upcoming appointment to find out what you should do.

If you live with other people

If you live with other people, including children, you should either take the following precautions, or if these are not possible, then the people you live with should also stay at home (shield) with you for 12 weeks:

  • minimise time spent in shared spaces
  • keep 2 meters (3 steps) away from each other
  • use separate bathrooms (or clean after each use)
  • sleep separately
  • use separate towels
  • not use the kitchen together or eat together
  • use separate cutlery, dishcloths and tea towels
  • clean door handles and kitchen and bathroom surfaces regularly

There's more detailed instructions on the government's page about shielding.

If these measures are not possible, then the people you live with should consider staying at home (shielding) with you for 12 weeks.

If you live with a key worker

If you live with someone who has to go to work, they should be following the general advice to prevent catching or spreading coronavirus extremely strictly during their work. When they get home, they should wash their hands thoroughly. Inside the home, you should follow the precautions above for 'If you live with other people'. There's more detailed instructions on the government's page about shielding. If these measures aren't possible or you are still worried, you may want to consider living separately. 

If someone visits

Visits from people who provide essential support such as healthcare, daily needs or social care should continue, but not if they have any symptoms.

People should only visit your home if absolutely necessary. They should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds on arrival, and regularly whilst they are there. They should also keep 2 meters away from you.

The government has more detailed advice on how to 'shield' and what those you live with should do.

Getting food and medication

Last updated: 3 April 2020

To access the government's support schemes for people shielding, including food and medicine deliveries:

Other helpful services:

  • The government has set up a WhatsApp help service. Add 07860 064422 to your phone contacts and then message the word ‘hi’ in a WhatsApp message to get started.
  • Many GPs let you request repeat prescriptions via email, phone or their website. Contact your GP to find out the easiest way for you.
  • If you can, ask family, friends and neighbours to collect your prescriptions or bring you supplies (they should leave them at the door), or use online services.
  • Contact your pharmacy if you need a volunteer to deliver your medication to you.
  • Contact your local council and tell them your situation.

How safe are deliveries and shopping?

Last updated: 3 April 2020

Getting things delivered is important because it helps you avoid the shops. You are more likely to catch coronavirus from a shopping trip than a delivery.

There are various studies being done into how long coronavirus can survive on different surfaces. But we don’t fully understand this yet. Overall, we think the risk of catching coronavirus from food, shop items or parcels is low. However, we know many people are keen to do what they can to reduce the risk, so we’ve given some options of things you could do.

To protect yourself when shopping (for people you live with):

  • Keep 2 meters away from other people.
  • Do not touch your face after touching objects like trolleys, baskets, products on shelves or card readers.
  • Clean your hands thoroughly before and after shopping.
  • Wash all fresh fruit and vegetables and leave to dry.
  • You could transfer food products into your own containers and throw away the container they came in.
  • Continue to avoid touching your face at home, especially after touching products brought back from the shop.

To protect yourself when receiving a delivery:

  • Delivery people should minimise contact during delivery – they should leave parcels on the doorstep, not ask for physical signatures, and step back 2 meters if the you answer the door. They may also wear gloves.
  • Delivery people should be following the general government advice very strictly when working, to prevent catching or spreading coronavirus.
  • You should avoid answering the door – ask the delivery person to leave the parcel on the doorstep and collect it when they’ve left.
  • You should wash your hands thoroughly after receiving the delivery.
  • Wash all fresh fruit and vegetables and leave to dry.
  • You could transfer food products into your own containers and throw away the container they came in.
  • Continue to avoid touching your face at home, especially after touching products brought back from the shop.
  • If getting a take-away, transfer the food into your own container or plate/bowl and reheat thoroughly.

The most important way to reduce the risk of catching coronavirus is to follow the general guidance on staying at home, keeping your hands clean, and not touching your face.

Coping with staying at home

Last updated: 3 April 2020

These measures are severe, but they are necessary to keep everyone as safe as possible, and to help the NHS cope with the cases that do happen.

It can feel like we have no control during this time, but there are things we can do to make it easier and help ourselves to cope better.

You might find our web pages on Living well with blood cancer helpful - there are tips and videos on exercises and relaxation you can do at home.

Practical things

  • Keep following the advice to regularly wash your hands thoroughly (for 20 seconds) with soap and water, or use a hand sanitiser
  • Continue to avoid touching your face with your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in the home.
  • Look into local charities or local groups in your community that are offering help to people staying at home
  • Tell your neighbours about your situation - they may be able to help with getting food or supplies to you
  • If you do need a family member or friend to visit, get them to wash or sanitise their hands when they arrive, and keep 2 meters away from you at all times. People should not visit if they have a cough or any other symptoms.
  • If you are worried about getting supplies for home and don't have anyone nearby that can help, read the information above on ‘Getting food and medication’

Talk to other people with blood cancer staying at home in our online forum coronavirus thread

Looking after your mental health

Pets and coronavirus

Last updated: 3 April 2020

Can pets spread coronavirus?

Current advice from the World Health Organisation and the British Veterinary Association is that there’s no evidence that pets can be a source of infection or become sick from coronavirus.

However, there is some evidence that coronavirus can survive on surfaces. This could include your pet’s fur, so it’s important to wash your hands regularly, including before and after contact with animals. Avoid letting your pet touch your face, and avoid touching your own face with your hands.

How can I walk my dog?

If you are shielding, ask someone else to walk your dog.

Whoever walks your dog should wash their hands before and after, and keep 2 meters away from other people and animals, including you when collecting the dog. Similarly, you should wash your hands before and after the dog is collected/returned.

PDSA have more information about pets and coronavirus.

Supporting vulnerable relatives if I'm staying at home

Last updated: 3 April 2020

If there are people you would normally visit or help during this time, but you are also staying at home, there are other people and services that could help, and you can still help by being in regular contact.

We are currently looking at what we can do as a charity to bring more support to people staying at home.

  • Call your relative every day or more to check in with them.
  • Ask your relative's neighbours if they could help by bringing them supplies.
  • Ask other family members or friends who are not vulnerable themselves to drop off supplies.
  • Book online deliveries for your relative.
  • If you are worried about your relative getting supplies for home and don't have anyone nearby that can help, read the information above on ‘Getting food and medication’.
  • Contact their pharmacy if they need a volunteer to deliver their medication.
  • Contact their local council and tell them the situation.
  • Contact Age UK
  • There are charities and groups in local communities working to support those who are vulnerable - look into anything happening in your relative's local area.

Work and money worries

Last updated: 3 April 2020

We've included some key things to know here. But if you have concerns about your employment rights or finances, you should seek expert advice from ACAS (Helpline: 0300 123 1100).

Self-isolation and sick pay

If you are normally entitled in your contract to Statutory Sick Pay, and you are off sick or self-isolating due to coronavirus in your household, you should get sick pay from the first day of absence.

If your employer needs proof, you can get a self-isolation note from the NHS.

If you are on a zero hours contract, and are off sick or self-isolating due to coronavirus symptoms in your household, you may still be entitled to sick pay if you have done some work for the company. Check your eligibility.

If you're a contractor, freelancer or similar (in gig-economy work), and are off sick or self-isolating due to coronavirus symptoms in your household, then speak to your current company - some are offering sick pay or compensation.

See the government advice on what employers should do for their employees.

If your workplace closes or your employer has no work for you

If your place of work has shut down or there’s no work for you because of coronavirus, you can carry on getting paid.

The government is allowing employers to claim up to 80% of their workers’ wages, up to £2,500 per month per worker, so they can continue to pay workers. This is called furloughing.

This includes full-time, part-time, agency contract and freelance or zero-hour contract employees.

Find out more about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

If you can’t go to work because you are shielding

The government has said everyone should work from home if they can. People should only be asked to go to work if their work can ‘absolutely not be done from home’.

If your usual work cannot be done from home, your employer may be able to adjust your role, to something that can be done from home. Talk to your employer about this, telling them you are keen to continue working but have been advised by the government to shield and stay at home for 12 weeks.

Cancer is classed as a disability under the Equality Act and the Disability Discrimination Act. This means that employers must make reasonable adjustments to allow you to do your job. This includes adjustments that protect your health, such as allowing you to work from home.

If your employer can’t reasonably support you to work from home, and therefore you are not working, you can still be paid if you have been advised by the government to shield and stay at home for 12 weeks.

The government is allowing employers to claim up to 80% of workers’ wages. This is called furloughing. A furloughed worker is someone who cannot work because of coronavirus. Employers can claim up to £2,500 per month per worker, so they can continue to pay workers. If you have been advised by the government to shield at home for 12 weeks, you count as a ‘furloughed’ worker. Full-time, part-time, agency contract and freelance or zero-hour contract employees can all be claimed for.

Find out more about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

When employers are making decisions about who to offer ‘furlough’ to, equality and discrimination laws will apply in the usual way.

If you are still being asked to go to work, but you believe you’re at a high risk, tell your employer that you need to follow government advice to stay at home. You are protected by law against unfair treatment and dismissal due to a health condition. If your employer puts unreasonable pressure on you to attend work, or unreasonably disciplines you for not attending work, this may be unlawful discrimination. If you are concerned about this, seek advice from ACAS (Helpline: 0300 123 1100).

If you are self-employed

The government has launched an income support scheme for self-employed people. This will allow you to claim a grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for the next 3 months.

You cannot apply for this scheme yet. HMRC will contact you if you are eligible for the scheme and invite you to apply.

Find out more about the self-employed income support scheme and other support for the self-employed.

Other support

You may be able to claim other benefits, like Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

If you claim Universal Credit, the rules around minimum income will be relaxed for the duration of the outbreak of coronavirus.

If you claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), you will be able to claim from day one, instead of day eight.

Paying bills

If you're worried about the impact of coronavirus on your finances, speak to your landlord, bank and utility bill companies - some are offering support to their customers during this time.

Contact your local Citizens Advice to find out about benefits and other forms of support you may be eligible for.

More work and money information

Support for you

Call our free and confidential helpline on 0808 2080 888 from Monday to Friday, 10am to 7pm, and Saturday to Sunday, 10am to 1pm.

We are currently receiving a very high volume of calls related to coronavirus, so if you're not able to get through straight away, please leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

You can also email us if you prefer to get in contact that way. We'll usually get back to you within two working days, but due to the current rate of calls and emails we are currently receiving it may take us longer.

Talk to other people with blood cancer on our Online Community Forum – there is a group for coronavirus questions and support.

The following companies have provided funding for our coronavirus support, but have had no further input: AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Celgene, Gilead, Janssen, Kyowa Kirin, Pfizer, Takeda.

Keep updated about coronavirus and blood cancer

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