CHANGES to shielding guidelines which could allow hundreds of Barnsley residents deemed more vulnerable to contracting coronavirus to be able to socialise again have been announced.

Since March, those with underlying health conditions were advised to take ‘extra precautions’ to protect themselves from coronavirus, which they could be easily susceptible to.

This caused many vulnerable people across the town to remain in their homes - prompting more than 1,000 volunteers to spring into action to deliver vital supplies - and many relied on others to collect shopping and other essentials on their behalf.

More than 25 per cent of the Barnsley population is above 65 years old, according to statistics from Public Health England, and this demographic was deemed most at risk.

However, due to the falling number of coronavirus cases, the government has made changes to the shielding procedures - meaning scores of residents have been given permission to get back to a normal way of life.

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Those who have been shielding will be permitted to meet up to six people from outside their household - as long as the meeting takes place outdoors and adheres to social distancing guidelines.

From August 1, people will not need to shield and will be allowed to visit places of worship.

These rules do not apply to those deemed ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’.

Barnsley’s public health director, Julia Burrows, said: “The NHS in Barnsley has responded exceptionally well to the challenge it’s facing and, to date, the local health system has not been overwhelmed.

“I don’t think anyone really knows what the total impact of coronavirus will be on our local communities, but we do know that people are struggling.

“Our residents already at a disadvantage or those who already had vulnerabilities have been the most affected by the virus, but we know that more and more people across the borough are finding things such as social distancing measures and financial pressures difficult to deal with.”

Despite the gradual easing of lockdown measures, fears have spread that Barnsley could face a ‘localised lockdown’ due to a spike in new coronavirus cases.

“I understand that people may find the recently reported number of positive tests in Barnsley worrying,” Ms Burrows added. “Whenever we see a change in pattern, we thoroughly investigate to understand the reasons why. We believe the recent variation we’ve seen has been associated with increased testing activity in care homes.

“We must say that while there is reason for hope and optimism, the future remains uncertain.

“We must stay safe and well as individuals, families and communities by adhering to the guidelines and supporting each other through these difficult times.

“We’ll keep it under continuous review, and our decisions will always put the wellbeing of Barnsley people first.”