Councils across Devon are working together to support people identified as being 'clinically extremely vulnerable' through this second lockdown.
During the first lockdown beginning last March, around 34,000 Devon residents were considered to be 'clinically extremely vulnerable' based on their long term health conditions and vulnerability, and they were advised to 'shield'. Many spent several months with little if any interaction outside of their households.
Councils, local charities and community groups worked hard to ensure that those who needed support, received help - including food deliveries and shopping, and lifts to medical appointments.
Since then, more vulnerable people have been identified.
With the latest lockdown, the 'clinically extremely vulnerable' have been written to by government again this week, and councils have put in place a support programme for those that need additional help to comply with new lockdown guidance.
Priority supermarket slots are available to speed up deliveries for people who otherwise would not be able to go to the shops to buy food over the next few weeks. Government-provided food parcels, given to around 7,000 clinically extremely vulnerable people in Devon last time, do not feature in the national support package this time.
The government letter also asks recipients to let them know if they need any specific additional support in order for them to follow the national lockdown guidance for the duration of the lockdown.
Those without family support networks can contact NHS Volunteer Responders, or any of the community groups set up across Devon offering support to local residents, or District Councils, which can signpost to support to help them over the latest lockdown period.
The Director of Public Health Devon, Dr Virginia Pearson, has also written this week to those in Devon identified as being especially vulnerable. In her letter, she says:
'Being identified as clinically extremely vulnerable does not mean that you are more likely to catch coronavirus. It just means that given your health and condition, the impact of it would be potentially more serious for you, were you to catch it. It's all the more reason for you to be extra careful right now.'
"We'd like people to use their existing family networks for support in the first instance, but there is a range of help available to those who do not have that network around them," she said.
Details of the support available, described in the Public Health Devon letter, are published on Devon County Council's website, devon.cc/clinicallyvulnerable, along with information about financial support that the council has made available via District Council 'hardship funds' for people in need of short term help to afford to pay for basic household essentials, devon.cc/support.
Dr Pearson says in her letter: "I know that this pandemic has been a very worrying time for everyone, and that many who were clinically extremely vulnerable last time and asked to 'shield', found lockdown to be a very difficult time.
"Therefore, please contact others for help if you need it, and stay in touch with family and friends during this time - but do this digitally as much as possible, to keep that important social distance. Remember that your mental wellbeing is as important as your physical health."
Cllr Judy Pearce, Leader of South Hams District Council, said: "People may well be very worried at the moment and we will do everything we can to support our residents in a compassionate and caring way. We will continue to provide support to our communities, as we have done throughout the year."
West Devon Borough Council's Leader, Cllr Neil Jory, said: "It's disappointing for all of us that we are in another lockdown but now is the time for us all to continue to be there for our communities and to continue to work with enthusiasm and passion. We are a vital service and we will do everything we can to continue to deliver that extra mile to make a difference in our local communities."
The Leader of Devon County Council, Cllr John Hart, said: "We have funds from the government to provide support, and we're sharing that with our Team Devon partners to help them respond quickly to support people during lockdown. We are well-experienced in providing the levels of community support that people will now need. We are ready, and we will do everything we can to assist our most vulnerable residents through the next few weeks."