On Monday, the UK Government announced that from 1st August, those of us who have been shielding will be allowed to meet outside in groups and go back to work if their workplace is secure. It also means an end to statutory sick pay and the delivery of essential food boxes for those most vulnerable to the infection.
It signals an end to what has been an extremely challenging 4 months (5 by the time it ends) for the shielded. The advice is changing because the risk of catching the virus continues to fall but do you feel safe leaving the house on 1st August?
I was lucky enough to know the announcement was coming. So it gave me some time to process it. However, I still cried as I walked my dog listening to the announcement on the radio.
It was very mixed emotions.
It was the light at the end of the tunnel we so desperately needed but it also made you realise what a long road we still had to travel.
One doctor told me that it might be Christmas before it would be safe to hug my family again and March 2021 before a vaccine would be ready for widespread deployment. So August 2020, still feels very early.
What does it mean for me?
Personally, just because we are told we can go round other people’s gardens, it doesn’t mean I feel safe to do so. There is still an awful lot of anxiety in the community of us shielder’s and from my point of view, little has changed.
Yes, the risk of transmission may be considerably lower but there’s still no vaccine. Still no magic cure for me should I catch Covid19. It simply means that there is a bed, ventilator and medical professionals free for my treatment now.
Currently, I do two isolated dog walks per day, as my health allows. I have found them stressful enough, with cyclists and joggers brushing past me with no warning and seemingly little concern for the 2-meter rule. I feel a very long way off feeling safe enough to go into a shop or round a friend’s garden – what if I need to use the bathroom? How do you join in with a BBQ without sharing condiments and touching the same surfaces?
As a group of people, us shielders are extremely anxious and paranoid by this point. We’ve made far too many sacrifices to put ourselves at risk now. Especially when nothing has changed with regards to a vaccine or effective treatment.
My experience of shielding
Without question, shielding has been one of the most emotional experiences of my life.
I was unwell when lockdown kicked in and was receiving a lot of medical support. There was one week where we had 5 letters and phone calls cancelling appointments. One of those, I had waited 30 weeks for a pain management appointment for it to get cancelled a week before it was due. That was a low point. It was the moment where it really sunk in how medically unsupported I would be during this pandemic.
This is something that the country needs to remember as things get back to normal. Along with those that tragically lost people, we sacrificed the most, in order to make space for the sick through COVID.
There are a lot of people with chronic conditions that are now broken. So not only have we been in the most challenging situation but have lost the most in terms of support. I hope there’s a plan to ensure that the chronically ill and disabled get the support they now need. I fear I may be disappointed.
First in, last out
What people need to remember is that the shielded and high risk have book-ended lockdown in a way that others haven’t. At first where ‘underlying health conditions‘ was used daily to explain those that sadly died from the virus. Like some kind of reassurance to the general population.
And again now at the end of lockdown. It is harder for us shielding now. In March, everyone was in the same boat, in it together, rainbows in windows etc. Now, families are reuniting, social media full of photos of people at bbq’s and the beach and we’re still having to shelter in place.
I am having to listen to neighbours laughing and drinking in gardens with friends. Its torture. Soon, it will be friends having a beer at the pub, watching football and I’m still sitting at home in my garden. Some are not even that lucky to have a space outside this entire time.
It forces you to withdraw. Protect yourself from the pain of it all and that’s not good for your mental health and puts a strain on relationships. It drives a stake between the shielded and their families and a divide between the healthy and the sick.
Shielding was the first time I ever really felt socially disadvantaged by my health condition. And, as attitudes already appear to be changing with delivery drivers no longer leaving items on doorsteps and stepping back as one example, the next six weeks I fear are only going to be harder for us.
There was a small window of opportunity where the healthy could have experienced what it was like to be chronically ill or disabled. Appreciate what it’s like to not leave your house, go to work, get your own shopping or medicine. To be stuck on the schedule of a disease, not your own.
But just as our beaches are being left littered just months after the world celebrated the apparent boom of nature in the deserted streets, we threw the chance away. Reverted to type. As humans so often do.
So much sacrificed, so little gained
As the first ones to enter lockdown under the instruction of our doctors, we were called ‘scaremongerers’, ‘paranoid’, ‘over-reactors’ by our friends, family, work colleagues and trial by social media. As the world returns to normal and we’re left to turn out the lights on lockdown, what did we gain?
The majority of us spared our lives but at the cost of our long-term health, relationships, jobs and confidence. We didn’t just do it for us – we did it for those that enjoyed that last night in the pub before they closed even though they knew the risks. The neighbours who continued to have family over throughout lockdown. The businesses that refused to close because they claimed they were providing ‘essential supplies’ (I’m looking at you, The Range!).
Do you think at any point they thought who’s doctor, nurse, bed or appointment they were taking when they were being treated for COVID when their own actions, their lack of self-control, meant it could have been so easily avoided if they just sat at home?
One thing we certainly didn’t gain is any more respect, understanding or appreciation from the wider population. The very people we made space for in the hospitals. The big hitters in the media barely mentioned us, with Monday’s news eclipsed in less than 24hrs hours because the pubs reopening was a greater public interest, apparently.
It’s this that made the personal sacrifice to my health and millions of others so sickening. It’s also why I fear what we have to witness from our homes over the next few weeks will be equally as challenging.
Share your thoughts
How do you feel about the Government’s announcement? Will you be ending shielding? How has shielding been for you? Let us know in the comments below.