I am 50 and have cystic fibrosis and diabetes. My husband works in a school and my teenagers are in year 10 and the second year of A levels.
They cannot possibly socially distance in school buildings the same size as last year with the same number of people in them. We live in a terraced house with no spare room and one bathroom. I cannot go to live with friends or family because they all work in hospitals or schools. I cannot effectively distance within my own home and I cannot manage without my husband’s support.
Yet like many others, my family are required to return to school and work leaving me vulnerable to infection as they mix with hundreds of people each day. My son’s so-called bubble is his entire year group of over 100 pupils and my daughter’s college is reporting new covid-19 cases regularly.
Clinically extremely vulnerable people need the Government to make provision for us and our household members to stay home, work from home and be educated from home.
The Government’s guidance is basically asking us to shield but refusing to name it that. The only difference is that we can take walks and meet one other person, socially distanced, in a public place. I would argue that being in a public place whilst you try to meet the other person is much less safe than meeting, socially distanced, in your own or a trusted person’s garden.
I appreciate that shielding is not being re-introduced in its previous form due to mental health issues, but not introducing it in a clear and comprehensive form just leaves us without protection, without legal rights, without jobs and income and without hope. We shouldn’t have to choose between protecting our physical health and earning a living or achieving an education.
Even when shielding was in place, it didn’t extend to shielders’ households. If a clinically extremely vulnerable person is living, like me, with two teenage children (in the age groups where cases are rising significantly) and a spouse who study/work in a school/college, they are living with people who, between them, come into contact with hundreds of people each week. And this is without social distancing or masks in the classroom or the other measures which we are constantly told are vital. I am trying to distance from my own family within our home. The stressful effect of this is detrimental to mental and physical health.
What makes me frustrated is that, unlike with many other aspects of the pandemic, for this there is a straightforward solution. We have the technology to work and be educated from home. All that we don’t have is the legal guidance and protection to enable us and crucially, our families as well, to do this. It is no use relying on the discretion of individual employers or educational establishments. Clear and consistent guidance needs to be put in place immediately to enable us to protect ourselves (and the NHS!).