Michael Gove admits the national lockdown could be extended beyond 2 December

Many vulnerable people have been shielding since March – we are fed up with being ignored

Deciding to shield during this pandemic has not been a choice, it has been a necessity – the government must now recognise our needs

Isabelle Jani-Friend
Saturday 07 November 2020 15:35
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Boris Johnson’s four-week lockdown ignores the needs of the most at risk in society.  

It has been seven and a half months since I went into isolation to shield from Covid-19 – having cystic fibrosis (CF) puts me in the vulnerable category. I’ve gone 33 weeks without seeing most of my friends or family. And there have been no trips to the pub, meals out or holidays abroad.  

I have remained shielding, as Covid-19 poses a very serious threat to my already damaged lungs. Cystic fibrosis is a life threatening, chronic condition, causing passageways in my lungs and digestive system to become blocked with thick, sticky secretions, over time leading to fatal lung damage. This means I fall into the clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV), high-risk category.  

In his speech last week, Johnson stated that those who are vulnerable would need to take extra care but didn’t tell us to shield again. We require extra support and guidance now more than ever; our needs cannot be ignored. It wasn’t safe for us in March, so why is it different now?  

Without greater measures in place, vulnerable key workers and those who are unable to work from home will still be expected to go to work – left with no choice but to put their health at risk. This isn’t acceptable. Shielding needs to return to protect those more at risk in society, ensuring that we can stay safe at home and have government support in doing so.    

Over the last few months people who were initially deemed CEV have been removed from the list without warning, including people with cancer, liver disease and severe asthma. Going into this second lockdown they will be left unsupported, forced to choose between their lives or their income, with many already losing their jobs, unable to claim Statutory Sick Pay or Employment and Support Allowance. This leaves them with a grave risk of contracting the virus.    

For those still on the list, no extra support has been announced. The latest guidance advises us to stay at home as much as possible but offers us no financial support or help accessing medication or food.  

We are used to having our needs ignored, benefits cut, austerity hitting us hardest and our National Health Service being severely underfunded. We cannot let this continue.  

But it’s not just the government who have forgotten about us. While people spent summer travelling abroad, going to pubs and restaurants, and spending time with friends and family, there was little thought given to those of us still shielding.  

I know how hard a second lockdown will be, and people are understandably upset about the latest restrictions. But a lot of discourse in the public has implied that those with pre-existing conditions are exposable. This callous, individualist mentality makes the pandemic an even bigger threat to people like me.  

There have been thousands of “extremely vulnerable” people who have been locked in their homes all year with little attention. I’m fed up with being ignored. This period has been devastating for us and isolating for months has severely impacted the mental health of many shielders.  

All my hospital care has been moved to online video clinics and phone calls, with face-to-face appointments extremely limited. This means I’ve had to manage my illness alone, leaving me constantly terrified of getting unwell.  

The most vulnerable in society are being left to fend for themselves, but the government need to treat us as a primary concern. During this second lockdown we need priority access to NHS services, to treat pre-existing conditions and for mental health support. People at risk who cannot work from home should receive financial assistance and job security, so that they can shield safely. 

Supermarkets could repeat the one-hour time slot before they open to allow shielders and the elderly, who cannot get deliveries, to remain safe. But community support will also be vital, to help with food shopping and medication deliveries for those who are shielding but are not on the CEV list.  

Since shielding paused in August, the vulnerable have had little recognition. Many of us have been left to assess the risk of Covid-19 ourselves. As we head into another lockdown, we need greater support and guidance. Deciding to shield and protect my life during this pandemic has not been a choice, it has been a necessity.  

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