We are desperate to return to normal life - but we must also be safe
The Prime Minister’s statement last week, has left the “most vulnerable*” bemused and worried.
As someone who is on long term heavy duty immunosuppressants, I was asked to shield from March 2020 till last September, among 3.7m others who are likely to get severe Covid and possibly die.
I lost an immunosuppressed disabled friend within the first month of lockdown and have watched as others have been taken very ill, and too many deaths, including a colleague last week.
Even after four vaccinations, there are around 1m people who will still not be protected by the vaccines. The current arrangements for access to antivirals is patchy (mainly, it is admitted, because the different data systems are causing problems with identifying those in this vulnerable group).
But the announcement that only 500,000 of the most vulnerable 3.7m will have access to free tests is extraordinary. No free tests for their families and co-workers, nor for their carers either. These people need free tests too so they can help protect their vulnerable family member!
The Prime Minister said that now is the time for everyone to take responsibility and to take precautions themselves. The most vulnerable have been doing that for the last two years.
A risk assessment for us – as advised by government – has been to check the numbers of cases in our area before going out. It won’t be possible to do that when the weekly local dashboard disappears.
I lost an immunosuppressed disabled friend and have watched as others have been taken very ill
Government guidance still tells us to ask anyone visiting if they have been fully vaccinated before they come into our homes, or before we go into a shop or on a train.
It’s become a joke with my lovely local greengrocers as I shout before I enter “everyone double-vaxxed in here?” But they are supportive and will deliver my shopping to me if cases are sky high in Watford, to help protect me. Under the new arrangements, someone with Covid will no longer have to self-isolate.
Perhaps I will have to ask people if they have Covid as well, as it won’t be possible to tell.
To be clear, I believe that we should slowly and carefully start to move away from formal arrangements. But we must take account of the number of current cases, the ONS told us it was two million last week.
The World Health Organisation has warned countries, including the UK, against lifting all the precautions and mitigations in one go – not least because cases are still very high, although thankfully slowly reducing at last.
Encouraging mask-wearing, testing, self-isolation for those with Covid – and payments for them to do so – are all part of the safety net to coming out of Covid safely. We also need surveillance, genomic sequencing, testing and tracing to ensure we monitor for future variants, as Sir Patrick Vallance warned we will see. We must be ready to stand up all these tools needed to fight future a variant as harsh as Delta.
In the meantime, those who cannot make or maintain antibodies after vaccines, and who remain at high risk of severe Covid need support. Above all that message needs to be transmitted more widely so others understand why some of us still wear masks, and open windows.
Believe me, we are all desperate for normal life to resume as soon as possible, but normal for us also has to be safe.
Baroness Brinton is a Liberal Democrat peer.
*formerly known as shielders/clinically extremely vulnerable/severely CEV/severely immunocompromised.
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