What is a ‘risk group’ and am I at extra risk from coronavirus?
If you’re in a ‘risk group’ you have a greater chance of serious illness if you catch coronavirus, and so you have to follow extra rules to protect yourself. The main groups identified by the NHS are ‘people at increased risk’ and ‘people most at risk’. Each risk group has been provided with extra steps on how to stay safe and reduce the chance of catching the virus.
What is a risk group?
Being in a risk group means you’re more likely to become severely ill from coronavirus compared to the general population.
Most people who catch coronavirus only have mild symptoms and recover after a few days. If you’re in a risk group you may have a serious illness with worse symptoms. The government and the NHS have provided specific advice for the 2 risk groups.
You’re in an increased risk group if you:
- are pregnant
- are over 70 years old
- have certain medical conditions (see below)
You’re in the most at risk group and are extremely vulnerable if you have certain underlying health conditions (see below). If so, you’ll need to take strict measures to protect yourself.
What conditions make me more at risk?
The risk groups for coronavirus are made up of people with different medical conditions.
You have an increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus if you have one of the following medical conditions:
- Chronic (long term) kidney disease
- Lung conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Heart disease or heart failure
- Any liver disease, for example hepatitis
- Brain and nerve conditions like Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Sickle cell disease
- Being very overweight or obese (if you have a body mass index over 40)
- A very weak immune system due to conditions like HIV and AIDS, or treatments like chemotherapy or steroid medication
Most at risk
There are some underlying health conditions which put you most at risk of serious illness if you catch coronavirus. These include if you:
- have had organ transplant surgery and are taking medicines to suppress your immune system
- have a severe heart condition and are also pregnant
- have cancer and are on a treatment like radiotherapy or chemotherapy
- have a blood or bone marrow cancer like leukaemia
- have a severe lung condition like cystic fibrosis (CF) or severe asthma that requires hospital admission
- are on dialysis due to severe kidney disease
I am in a risk group – what should I do?
If you’re in the increased risk group you should avoid interacting with others, and strictly follow social distancing measures.
- Make only essential trips like buying food and medicine
- Exercise outside the home only once a day within your local area
- Avoid non-essential use of public transport
- Work from home if possible
- Avoid large and small gatherings in public places including parks and leisure centres
- Avoid visiting family and friends. Stay in touch using digital communication like phone, social media and video calling
If you’re in the most at risk group you should have been contacted by the NHS and advised to follow ‘shielding measures’ for at least 12 weeks.
Shielding means stopping contact between you and other people. This includes avoiding non-essential contact with members of your household.
Shielding measures you should take if you’re ‘most at risk’ are:
- Stay at home at all times for at least 12 weeks
- Do not leave home to buy food, collect prescription medication or exercise
- Ask family and friends or use delivery services to help with grocery shopping or medications, and tell them to leave the items outside your home
- If there are other people in your household, stay at least 2m (6ft) away from them
- Avoid contact with people showing COVID-19 symptoms like a new continuous cough or high temperature
- Do not attend any gatherings, including funerals
- Do not participate in non-essential activities if they involve contact with people
- Use remote communication like telephone or online services to contact your GP, and to stay in touch with family and friends
Keep strict hygiene measures like washing your hands with soap and water often, for at least 20 seconds
Caring for people in risk groups
The best way to protect vulnerable people in risk groups is to stay at home and maintain social distancing measures, to prevent the coronavirus spreading further. If you would like to help, the current advice is to first make sure you:
- are not pregnant
- are under 70 years
- do not have symptoms of coronavirus like high temperature or a continuous cough, or live with someone showing symptoms
- do not have any underlying health condition that could make you vulnerable to severe illness from coronavirus
If you meet the rules above, you can help people in risk groups by:
- getting them essential supplies like food or medicines. Remember to leave all items outside for collection and always keep a distance of 2m (6ft)
- staying in touch regularly through phone calls or digital communication to check on their well-being
If you're caring for someone in a risk group and need to get tested for coronavirus, we offer a lab testing service that detects up to 98% of coronavirus cases.
Am I more at risk if I am on blood pressure or heart medication?
If you have heart disease you’re in the ‘increased risk’ group and could become severely ill if you catch coronavirus. If you’re in this group, you should:
- follow the advice for social distancing very carefully
- do not stop your current medication
Stopping your medication could cause you to become unwell or develop breathing difficulties.
If you’re concerned about any risk from taking medication for your heart, contact your doctor who will let you know what to do.
Am I more at risk if I am a smoker?
Smoking mainly causes damage to your airways and lungs, and also reduces your body’s immunity to infection over time.
As COVID-19 mainly attacks the lungs, if you smoke you have an increased risk of severe illness if you catch the virus.
Our stop smoking page provides more advice and information to help you quit smoking.
Dr Babak Ashrafi Clinical Lead for Service Expansion
Babak studied medicine at King’s College London and graduated in 2003, having also gained a bachelor’s degree in Physiology during his time there. He completed his general practice (GP) training in East London, where he worked for a number of years as a partner at a large inner-city GP practice. He completed the Royal College of GPs membership exam in 2007.Meet our doctors
Last reviewed: 17 Apr 2020
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Coronavirus: how to help safely (2020) Cabinet Office [accessed 13 April 2020]
COVID-19: what is a risk group? (2020) Patient Info [accessed 13 April 2020]