From Monday, coronavirus restrictions will be eased across England bringing an end to social distancing laws and compulsory mask wearing, although Boris Johnson has urged people to continue “exercising caution” when out in public and near those you do not normally see.
Although the prime minister has said he expects that people still wear face masks in crowded or enclosed spaces, such as public transport, and “to keep thinking of others”, there has been criticism over explicit safety provisions for those classed as clinically vulnerable once the mandate has lifted and is replaced with only guidance to do so.
Government advice for the clinically vulnerable recommends avoiding people who have not had both doses of the vaccine - around 36,000,000 people have had both doses, accounting for 68 per cent of the UK’s adult population - and only meeting others outdoors if possible. They should also ask friends and family to take lateral flow tests before visiting and go to supermarkets and other shops at quieter times of the day.
The guidance advises to “limit contact with people they do not usually meet, particularly if the number of Covid-19 cases are high”. On Sunday, the UK reported 48,161 new Covid-19 cases.
Health charities have said that the lifting of restrictions supplemented only by this guidance is removing protective measures for the estimated 3.7 million people who are classed as clinically vulnerable.
“For many, the lifting of restrictions will make them feel like they have less freedom rather than more,” Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma UK and the BLF told The Independent. “The new guidance means the burden of staying well has fallen squarely on them and many will feel they can’t participate in the same daily activities as they did before.”
According to a survey carried out by Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation (BLF), nearly all people with lung conditions said they think mask-wearing should continue unless people are medically exempt.
Gemma Peters, CEO of Blood Cancer UK said: “The overwhelming feeling from our community is of anxiety...lots of them have told us it’s been great to start getting back to normal over the last couple of months. But the reason many have felt able to do this is because people [around] them have been keeping their distance and wearing masks.”
With cases on the rise and restrictions lifting, we spoke with clinically extremely vulnerable people on how they feel about 19 July.
Rebecca Magnus, 33
“In a post-Covid world, there is no place for the clinically extremely vulnerable. It is survival of the fittest”
Since April, I’ve enjoyed the small freedoms I’ve had after many bleak and difficult months. Popping into shops, supporting local businesses, going into galleries and museums when they’re quiet, seeing family and friends outside, taking part in society in small, joyful ways. That changes from 19 July.
From Monday, I don’t feel clinically safe going into shops, cafes, public transport, cultural spaces, really any enclosed space unless essential or urgent. We can’t rely on the kindness of others to protect our lives; we need the legal protections offered by the current mandates or shielding provisions to help us protect our health with the bare minimum clinical and societal support in place.
My very real fear is that we will pay the price for government recklessness with our lives. I feel that people will die needlessly, and their deaths are a deliberate political choice, because they have chosen to take away all legal protections and provisions at the point they’re needed most.
There has been no consideration at all of clinically extremely vulnerable people in their re-opening plans and their muddled, ill-considered and out-of-touch communications reflect that. Through their words and actions, the government is saying that in a post-Covid world, there is no place for the clinically extremely vulnerable. It is survival of the fittest and we are not fit to survive.
Mita Mistry, 47
“I don’t want to stop living my life but at the same time, I’m going to have to reinvent and create my own measures to protect myself and be extra vigilant.”
I’ve had both Covid-19 vaccines but that doesn’t mean I’m not at risk of getting the virus, I can still get it. I’ve got a compromised immune system, so to have all these restrictions lifted all of a sudden when cases are rising is quite worrying. Also, the guidance is very unclear and just seems a bit irresponsible. If you’re a clinically vulnerable person, how are you supposed to know if somebody has been double jabbed? And even if they have, they still might have Covid-19.
There’s still so much uncertainty that the safest thing for anybody, whether you’re clinically vulnerable or not, would be to put your own measures in place because this government is not giving us clear guidance. I don’t think they are protecting clinically vulnerable people.
I will still be social distancing even though they are removing the restrictions. I will still be very careful going into public spaces, wearing masks and washing my hands because I don’t really feel that the threat of the virus has truly gone away just yet. I don’t want to stop living my life but at the same time, I’m going to have to reinvent and create my own measures to protect myself and be extra vigilant.
“We have religiously stuck to the rules up until now, and as a thank you from the government we are now just collateral damage.”
Me and my wife, who is clinically vulnerable, feel like we have been thrown under a bus and we feel more at risk than ever. Freedom Day is anything but. We have religiously stuck to the rules up until now, and as a thank you from the government we are now just collateral damage.
Whilst the numbers have been low, we have enjoyed seeing people outside after a year of only talking to them over FaceTime. We have also just started swimming again and that’s been such a treat. With low numbers of positive cases, social distancing and masks we have felt safer. But with rising cases, and no masks, we won’t feel safe doing anything inside public places. Apart from going on park walks and other outside activities when its quiet, it’s going to be just like shielding again.
We have three children who have been amazing [throughout the pandemic] and have just taken everything in their stride. But we now worry about the end of school bubbles, and no more masks in school seems crazy when [children] are unvaccinated.
Billy Tidman, 24
“The bare minimum is not good enough in this situation and many more people will continue to get Covid-19 and suffer the consequences alone.”
I am supposed to be going back to work at the tail end of August for an office job. I have had both vaccines but not sure on how I will cope if I’m honest. I wear a mask everywhere I go but seeing people not bother to is a huge concern for me.
I think the social-distancing rule has been a farce, with hardly anyone keeping to it. My [local] shopping centre recently was packed full of people not wearing masks or keeping their distance.
I do not feel the government have done enough. They have not asked from the perspective of those who are clinically extremely vulnerable. The bare minimum is not good enough in this situation and many more people will continue to get Covid-19 and suffer the consequences alone.
*This name has been changed to protect their privacy.
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