People Don’t Trust The Government Enough To Stop Shielding After Five Months
When the government announced shielding was effectively over in England earlier this month, those who had been following the guidelines were left wondering whether it was actually safe enough to venture out.
After all, under instruction from Boris and co., those classed as extremely clinically vulnerable had been told again and again in recent months that in order to protect themselves they needed to stay inside.
And over the course of five months that’s exactly what they did, often with limited or zero human contact, because if that was the cost of keeping themselves safe, then it was worth paying.
So when the government said it was no longer advising them to shield, despite local lockdowns still being enforced in certain parts of the UK and despite hundreds of people still dying from coronavirus each day, many couldn’t understand why.
Why was it they were suddenly being told they could disregard previous shielding advice? Why were they now being told it was safe to go back to work? Why could they now go outside ‘as much as they like’?
What exactly had changed? The government itself said it had taken the measures because ‘the rates of transmission of coronavirus in the community have fallen significantly’. But when we look at the science, that doesn’t really hold up.
The rate of transmission, or the ‘R rate’ as we’ve come to know it as, indicates how fast the virus is likely to spread and is used to track how many people, on average, one infected person will spread the virus to.
An R rate of one therefore indicates that every individual infected will pass the disease onto one other person, meaning the total number of infections is stable. At the time of writing, the government estimates the R is in a range of between 0.8 and 1.0.
Of course, compared to March, when the R number was estimated to be as high as four in parts of England, it’s true that the rates of transmission have fallen across the country. However, in particular regions that R rate is on the rise.
In London and the North West, for example, the R number is estimated to be higher than one – a figure that, according to the government, suggests the pandemic is growing. Only when the R is lower than one is the pandemic shrinking, at least according to the government’s own guidelines.
Not only that, but the UK government’s science advisory group, known as SAGE, has repeatedly said it is ‘no longer confident’ the number is below one in England, due to government estimates only representing the transmission of the virus from several weeks ago.
‘It is less safe to stop shielding now than it was three weeks ago,’ 31-year-old Stephen Lavelle, who has cystic fibrosis (CF) and has been shielding since March 28, told UNILAD.
Stephen, who currently has around 37% lung function because of his CF diagnosis, described the government’s pausing of shielding as ‘unbelievably frustrating and contradictory’, particularly because the place he lives – the North West – had tighter restrictions placed on it just days before shielding ended.
The average citizen in the North West has had restrictions placed on them due to the dramatic rise of cases yet it feels like those who were shielding have been forgotten about yet again.
My clinical team has told me I should not be working and I should still be shielding despite government advice… There is clearly a difference of opinion between the medical experts in the CF field and the politicians. I know which ones I trust more with my health.
There is no confidence at all in the government and its advice for shielders during this pandemic. The government was too late to put shielding in place and it has ended shielding far too early. This opinion has been echoed by my consultants and physios.
Stephen said those who have been shielding have been ‘brushed aside and forgotten about’ during the pandemic, a sentiment echoed by 50-year-old Kate from Cambridgeshire, who told UNILAD the most vulnerable ‘have been written off’.
Kate, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and unstable asthma, has been shielding with her husband and three children even before the government introduced its measures in March because they realised she was ‘high risk’ immediately.
She said that in spite of the fact those shielding are ‘people of all ages with lives ahead of us’, it feels as though they are being left behind and are only being told they can go outside again because the government knows there is ‘room for them in the hospital’.
‘It is reckless to put the most at risk in this position,’ Kate explained. ‘We have had so many deaths – the highest number in Europe – even with the clinically extremely vulnerable shielded and not in society. With rates as they are and shielding paused, it feels like the next care home scandal waiting to happen.’
We were protected, now we are not. We don’t trust the government on this. Our health risks haven’t changed. If someone said you had a 60% chance of being in a plane crash, you wouldn’t get on that plane. I have little chance of surviving COVID-19, so it’s not worth the risk.
The infection rates in our area are higher than at lockdown. When the government set out the steps it said shielding would last until Level 1. We are nowhere near there. Our clinical needs have not changed, nor has the risk.
In my area Public Heath wrote to us to say not to change the measures we were taking because the prevalence is too high. We weren’t going to anyway. We will continue to shield.
Another person who doesn’t feel confident following the government’s easing of shielding is 36-year-old Halima Khatun, from Manchester, who gave birth to her second child at the end of March, just as lockdown kicked in.
Describing her household’s situation as a ‘triple whammy’, Halima said both she and her two children were advised to shield in March; herself as she had just given birth and her daughter because she had had some upper respiratory problems in the past.
Although Halima describes herself as ‘fed-up’ with the situation and wants to get back to normality as soon as possible, the mother-of-two is continuing to shield, only leaving the house to go for walks with her children.
‘I’m not in a hurry to visit restaurants and shopping centres yet, as the virus seems to be fluctuating in terms of rates of infection,’ she told UNILAD. ‘And as the government guidance changes so drastically and so quickly, I’m relying on my instincts of it all.’
Just because shielding has eased, it doesn’t mean the virus has disappeared. I don’t feel confident to follow the guidance fully [and] I certainly won’t be going to restaurants any time soon.
I’d rather feel confident that things are safer, and it doesn’t feel like that right now.
Also relying on her instincts is 43-year-old Catherine Gladwyn from Swindon, who had a brain tumour removed in October 2019. ‘I’d literally just started going out in March after my recovery, only to be told to go back indoors again,’ she explained.
Despite being told by the government it’s safe to go back outside again, Catherine has continued to shield, posing the question: ‘[The government] have hardly done an outstanding job, have they? 46,000+ deaths [and counting].’
Because she is ‘high risk’, Catherine said she doesn’t feel confident following the government’s advice to stop shielding, and will continue to trust her own judgement for as long as her life is at risk.
Imagine if [the government] was an employee assigned to do a task; it has failed, basically, but with people’s lives.
Where’s the accountability? That’s what bothers me – they can do as they please and are never accountable. Could they have prevented so many deaths, so much heartache? Yes.
Catherine added that as long as she’s able to have control over her own safety, she will, telling us: ‘I do not want to go back in [hospital] unless it’s something I can’t control, and I can control whether I get COVID-19 by staying in.’
What does it tell you when those who have spent the past five months isolated from the outside world, often suffering worsening feelings of anxiety and depression as a result, would rather continue doing so than listen to their government and start socialising again?
The most vulnerable people in society have been so let down in recent months they feel as though the only people who can keep them safe right now is themselves. Not the government, which in recent weeks has shifted the focus away from staying home and saving lives onto reopening the economy, whatever the cost.
As a result, many are continuing to shield in spite of the government’s assurances that it’s safe to stop doing so. And who can blame them?
Why should they follow the advice of a prime minister who doesn’t seem to be taking the risks seriously, previously telling those worried about socialising again to ‘show some guts’?
Why should they follow the advice of a government willing to stop statutory sick pay and free food parcels as soon as shielding ended on August 1, effectively forcing many who weren’t ready to go back to work when they didn’t feel it was safe?
The answer’s clear: they shouldn’t. Because no matter what Boris Johnson says, it’s clear this isn’t over. Not in the slightest, in fact.
Continuing to shield isn’t an easy choice, and it isn’t one people are making lightly. But it is the only choice for many who risk serious illness or even death if they re-enter society before it’s safe to do so.
So please, if you know anybody in this position, make sure you offer them a helping hand wherever possible and show them they’re not in this alone.
It’s okay to not panic about everything going on in the world right now. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization, click here.