This page is reviewed regularly. Last reviewed at 11:40 on 15th October 2020.

Advice for people at higher risk

Things that can affect your risk

Public Health England has identified a number of factors that may increase your risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19. Currently, it is unknown why these characteristics increase your risk, but research is ongoing. These are:

  • Age - as you get older your risk increases
  • Background - your risk is higher if you are from a Black, Asian, minority ethnic background

More risk factors may be added as we learn more about the virus.

If you have any of these risk factors you do not need to take any specific measures, but you should follow the social distancing guidance closely and pay particular attention to good hand and respiratory hygiene.

COVID-19 and smoking - what are the risks?

The evidence on smoking and COVID-19 is in development, however current scientific findings suggest that smoking generally increases your risk of developing respiratory infections, and increases the severity of symptoms once infected. This also affects people who are exposed to second-hand smoke. Stopping smoking will bring immediate benefits to your health in the short and long-term.

For more information on smoking and COVID-19, visit the Government website.

Vulnerable Individuals

Becoming seriously unwell can happen to anyone, but some people are at a higher risk. There are two groups of people at higher risk:

  • Moderate risk (clinically vulnerable)
  • High risk (clinically extremely vulnerable)

Who is at moderate risk?

You’re at moderate risk of becoming seriously ill if you:

  • Are 70 or older
  • Are pregnant
  • Have a lung condition that's not severe (such as asthma, COPD, emphysema or bronchitis)
  • Have heart disease (such as heart failure)
  • Have diabetes
  • Have chronic kidney disease
  • Have liver disease (such as hepatitis)
  • Have a condition affecting the brain or nerves (such as Parkinson's disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy)
  • Have a condition that means they have a high risk of getting infections (such as HIV)
  • Are taking medicine that can affect the immune system (such as low doses of steroids)
  • Are very obese (a BMI of 40 or above)

What to do if you’re at moderate risk

While you may resume activities - such as getting food, exercising, and going to work if you are unable to do so from home - it is important to maintain social distancing.

Read the Government guidance on staying alert and safe (social distancing) here.

Who is at high risk?

You’re at high risk of becoming seriously ill if you:

  • Have had an organ transplant
  • Have a severe lung condition (such as cystic fibrosis, severe asthma or severe COPD)
  • Have a condition that means you have a very high risk of getting infections (such as SCID or sickle cell)
  • Take a medication that makes you much more likely to get infections (such as a high dose of steroids)
  • Are pregnant and have a heart condition
  • Are having any of these treatments for cancer:
    • Chemotherapy
    • Immunotherapy or continuing antibody treatment
    • Intense radiotherapy (radical radiotherapy) for lung cancer
    • Targeted cancer treatments that can affect the immune system (such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors)
    • Bone marrow or stem cell transplant in the past 6 months, or you’re still taking immunosuppressant medicine
    • Any stage of treatment for blood or bone marrow cancer (such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma)
  • Have been deemed high risk by your doctor due to your specific circumstances

You should have had a letter to tell you are at high risk. Talk to your GP if you’re not sure.

What to do if you’re at high risk

The government guidance for people at an increased risk is being updated regularly. Read the latest guidance on what is currently advised here.

How to self-isolate

Those who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should be particularly strict in following self-isolation measures.

See our guide

Where to get expert advice

  • Cancer

    If you are currently living with cancer or are worried for a friend or family member who has cancer, here you can access specific information about COVID-19 and cancer, including advice on social shielding, continuing your treatment and tips on how to cope.

    Find out more

  • Diabetes

    Discover useful information on COVID-19 if you are living with diabetes, including why you are considered vulnerable, what to do if you have symptoms, shielding advice and when to seek medical help.

    Find out more

  • Heart disease

    If you are living with heart disease, here you can access detailed information on why you are considered high risk, what you should do and specific advice on shielding, as recommended by the government and NHS.

    Find out more

  • Kidney disease

    Read the latest information and advice for patients living with kidney disease, including what to do if you have symptoms of COVID-19, specific advice on shielding and frequently asked questions.

    Find out more

  • Lung disease

    Read everything you need to know about the risks of COVID-19 if you are living with a lung disease or condition, including asthma, cystic fibrosis, mesothelioma, pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis and tuberculosis.

    Find out more

  • Mental health

    Whether you are living with a mental health condition or want advice on how to look after your mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak, here you’ll find helpful tips and advice on how to manage stress and worry.

    Find out more

  • Pregnancy

    If you are currently pregnant or living with a pregnant family member, here you can find detailed information on pregnancy and COVID-19, including why pregnant women are considered vulnerable, reducing your risk and the specific advice you should take.

    Find out more

  • Rheumatic diseases

    If you are living with a rheumatic disease, here you’ll find up-to-date information and advice on COVID-19, including the precautions you should take and what to do if you are showing symptoms.

    Find out more

Watch our video guides

  • How to wash your hands

  • How do you self-isolate?

  • How to look after someone with COVID-19