Independent Age has surveyed adults aged over 65 and found that there is confusion around who should be shielding.
The organisation is calling for Government to urgently rethink how it delivers coronavirus guidance and the language it uses.
The poll, which was carried out by Opinium on behalf of Independent Age, found that 43% of people incorrectly believed that the Government had instructed over-70s without any underlying health conditions to shield themselves by not leaving the house. This suggests that nearly half of over-70s could be self-isolating unnecessarily.
The actual guidance for this group – classed as 'clinically vulnerable' – is to stay at home as much as possible and 'take particular care' in social distancing. Only those with certain conditions, classed as 'extremely clinically vulnerable' (such as those with specific cancers), have been advised to stay at home at all times.
Less than a third (30%) of people polled correctly identified the correct guidance for over-70s without underlying health conditions.
Independent Age is concerned that thousands of people may have completely shielded themselves and lived in isolation, when they could have left the house for socially distanced exercise and shopping for essentials.
The polling also showed that 28% of respondents found the guidance for over-70s unclear or very unclear.
Independent Age is calling for the Government to do something about the confusion around who should be shielding. It asks that Government introduces targeted messages and broadcasts advertising to the clinically vulnerable group – including healthy over-70s – and clarifies what is meant by ‘particular care’, using real life examples.
The charity is also asking the Government to clarify that not everyone aged over 70 is classed as 'extremely clinically vulnerable' and needing to shield themselves.
Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said, 'Given the results of this polling, we have very real concerns that many people aged over 70 have self-isolated unnecessarily during the lockdown, instead of being able to, with caution, leave the house for essentials and exercise.
'People of all ages in our community are doing their very best to follow the advice of government – but when language like ‘take particular care’ is used without any context or practical examples, it makes that effort extremely difficult.
'We want the government to urgently clarify its messages to over-70s, as well as working with voluntary organisations to empower people in later life to understand their risk from COVID-19 and learn how to manage it. This could include working with organisations like ours to inform and test messages.
'More thought needs to go into the channels being used for these messages. Many people aged over 70 are not regular internet users, and currently advertising in broadcast media is targeted at the general public, rather than explaining guidance to the clinically vulnerable group, which includes over-70s.'