Coronavirus (COVID-19) can cause mild symptoms. But for older people and those with an underlying health condition, it can be more serious. This page has guidance on how vulnerable people and those advised to shield by a GP can reduce the risk of getting coronavirus and access help and support.
People considered vulnerable
People over the age of 70 are considered vulnerable, even if they do not have an underlying health condition. This also applies to those who are pregnant.
Others considered vulnerable include people who have:
- chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis(external link opens in a new window / tab)
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
- chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
- diabetes(external link opens in a new window / tab)
- problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
- a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets(external link opens in a new window / tab) or chemotherapy(external link opens in a new window / tab)
- being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
Those with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of severe illness if they contract coronavirus must stay at home to protect themselves.
GPs will be writing to those in Northern Ireland most at risk to provide them with more detailed advice.
COVID-19 Community Helpline
A freephone helpline to help those in vulnerable groups to access information, advice and support in relation to COVID-19 is open 9.00 am to 5.00pm, seven days a week.
The helpline is local to Northern Ireland, and is managed by Advice NI.
- freephone number: 0808 802 0020
You can also get in touch by email and text message or webform:
- email: email@example.com
- text: ACTION to 81025
- Complete a form on the Advice NI Website(external link opens in a new window / tab)
Advice for a vulnerable person staying at home
Everyone should be staying at home and following social distancing measures. Older people and vulnerable people, including those with underlying health conditions and pregnant women should be particularly strict when following them.
If you know an older or vulnerable person who has been advised to self-isolate is worried about going out or decides they’d prefer not to, there are still plenty of things you can do to help, including:
- staying in touch over the phone
- checking if they need any shopping or help
- encourage others to stay in contact
- encourage them to keep active by moving around the house or spending time in the garden/ outdoor area
Vulnerable persons receiving care
Vulnerable people may include those receiving domiciliary care or those living in nursing and residential care homes. Guidance for these settings is available from the Public Health Agency website.
If you are worried about your health and social care during COVID-19 the Patient and Client Council offer a Freephone support service, supporting you with any questions, concerns or complaints you may have.
Advisors will be able to help you to navigate your care should it be affected by the new pressures being faced by the Health Service during COVID-19. Contact details are below:
- Freephone telephone number: 0800 917 0222
- Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about this service visit the Patient Client Council website(external link opens in a new window / tab)
Advice for extremely vulnerable people (shielding)
There is guidance for people, including children, who are at high risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) because of an underlying health condition, and for their family, friends and carers.
- Guidance for shielding and protecting extremely vulnerable people(external link opens in a new window / tab)
Priority online food delivery
If you do not have arrangements in place with family or friends or wider support to help meet your needs, during this pandemic you can register for a priority online food delivery.
How to help reduce the risk of getting coronavirus
Everyone should be staying at home and following social distancing measures. Another important thing you can do to reduce the risk of infection for yourself and the people around you is to wash your hands, frequently and thoroughly, with soap and hot water.
You should also make sure you catch coughs or sneezes with a tissue or your sleeve – not your hands – and put used tissues in the bin. Then wash your hands. Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- More information on hand hygiene
- Social distancing measures(external link opens in a new window / tab)
Medicines and COVID-19
There is no need for you to do anything new or different when ordering or taking your medicines.
People should order prescriptions and take their medicines as normal.
Extra supplies should not be ordered from your doctor.
Stockpiling or buying medication that you do not need is unnecessary and could disadvantage other people.
How to stay safe when accepting help from others
If you are receiving voluntary help do not share financial details like credit/debit card numbers or personal information.
If someone you don’t know calls at your home, always ask for ID and always ensure you are comfortable sharing details like your phone number or address.
Only provide information on a need to know basis and if you have seen ID. Do not feel pressured into providing information.
If you have doubts about those who are approaching you, and are concerned, it is advised that you don’t engage, and report serious suspicious behaviour to the police.
Remember that genuine volunteers have been instructed not to enter your home.