The government is asking an additional 1.7 million people in England to shield, bringing the total number of shielders in the country to four million.
These people were identified by a new model for assessing coronavirus vulnerability that takes into account factors such as ethnicity, deprivation and BMI, rather than just certain health conditions.
Those shielding in England are advised to avoid going to the supermarket themselves, and instead to order online or arrange for someone to shop for them.
All four UK nations have special guidance in place for clinically extremely vulnerable people.
Thankfully, there are measures in place to help shielding households get food delivered safely. Here's an up-to-date rundown of how to get help if you or someone you know is avoiding going to the shops and needs support in getting food delivered to their home.
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Supermarkets have already greatly increased their online order capacity over the course of the pandemic. Every major online grocer is offering special 'priority' delivery slots to help those who are too vulnerable to visit stores - .
So if you've been added to the list, visit the website to register for priority deliveries if you need them.
The extra 1.7 million people added to the English shielding list will effectively double it, raising questions as to whether supermarkets will have the capacity to serve them if they choose to shop online.
Which? contacted several supermarkets when news of the new shielding list broke. Those we heard back from said they were confident in their ability to provide additional priority delivery slots for these customers.
Whether 'shielding' is officially advised or not, every UK nation has special guidance in place for clinically extremely vulnerable people during the pandemic.
You can find everything you need to know about staying safe during the current lockdown on each nation's government website:
Supermarkets are helping vulnerable shoppers in two ways: running exclusive in-store opening hours for vulnerable shoppers and their carers, and offering priority online delivery slots to those shielding.
Governments are regularly sending the supermarkets up-to-date lists of people shielding in each nation to help the supermarkets identify who needs a priority slot.
If you've been advised to shield but have not yet been contacted about priority delivery, you may be able to contact your chosen supermarket to be added to its list, or you can register with your nation's government at one of the following links:
For most supermarkets, 'priority delivery' simply means early access to regular delivery slots. Everything from delivery costs to minimum order requirements are the same, but you can book further in advance if you're shielding.
Tesco is the exception to this. Shielding customers can either select standard one-hour delivery slots or special priority slots with eight-hour delivery windows. Customers who choose these will be given a one-hour slot on the morning of the delivery.
Earlier in the pandemic, more than 20 UK charities called on supermarket CEOs to scrap online delivery charges for those at the highest risk from COVID-19. Iceland and Waitrose offer free delivery to all their customers, but the other supermarkets charge for slots whether you're vulnerable or not.
The table below outlines how priority delivery works for each supermarket. We'll update this if we hear that any supermarkets have waived their fees.
|Supermarket||How far in advance can you book a slot?*||Delivery cost||Minimum order|
|Asda||3 weeks ahead (2 weeks for non-priority)||£1-£7||£40|
|Iceland||6 days ahead (5 days for non-priority)||Free for orders over £35, £2 for orders under £35||£25|
|Morrisons||3 or 4 weeks ahead (2 for non-priority)||We have asked Morrisons for this information and are awaiting a response||£40|
|Ocado||3 weeks ahead (2 for non-priority)||From £2.99 to £6.99 for orders under £75||£40|
|Sainsbury's||2 weeks ahead (1 for non-priority)||Average between £2 and £4.50 for orders over £40; £7 for orders under £40||£25|
|Tesco||We have asked Tesco for this information and are awaiting a response||£4.50-£5.50||No minimum but £4 'basket charge' added to orders under £40|
|Waitrose||2 weeks ahead (1 for non-priority)||Free||£40|
*Answers are based on England; this may vary in other nations. Correct as of 21 January 2021.
If you plan to use the shops, use the table below to find out when each supermarket is exclusively open for vulnerable shoppers and their carers.
Links take you to the Which? review of each supermarket.
Correct as of 7 January 2021.
Other customers can still shop at the same time, so there's no guarantee the shop will be any emptier. However, booking a slot is a way to get yourself the queue-jumping 'priority access' vulnerable shoppers have at Sainsburys and Waitrose.
Many shielding and vulnerable people are turning to volunteer groups to help them with accessing essentials, but last year this led to concern over how to pay without handing over cash or card details.
Supermarkets introduced shopping cards, which are designed to be topped up like gift vouchers. These offer a safer payment method to support those that are relying on volunteers.
In many areas, mutual aid groups that were set up by local residents via Facebook during the first national lockdown have been resurrected, providing much-needed help to vulnerable local people or those having to isolate. Search for your if you'd like to get involved or if you need help.
Residents within these groups may help people by picking up groceries or prescriptions, or offer a telephone call for those struggling with isolation.
It's not just neighbours who are offering support either, with local shops and restaurants offering a lifeline for some by supplying boxes of essentials or delivering hot meals that can be ordered over the phone.
Last year, we heard about Royal Mail delivery people putting notes through letterboxes offering help, and neighbours sharing online supermarket orders to ensure that everybody in the street gets the supplies they need.
This story was originally published on 7 April 2020 and has been regularly updated to reflect the current situation. Additional reporting by Ian Aikman.