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UK shielders on the rise in Covid cases

People vulnerable to Covid because of their health say they feel forgotten, anxious and unsupported despite new government advice to to take extra precautions due to a sharp rise in coronavirus infections in England.



Boris Johnson riding a bicycle on a city street: Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images


© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Support worker Marie-Louise Anacoura, one of more than 2 million people on the government’s shielding list in England, says not enough is being done to protect those who are vulnerable. Noting that most people on the list will not be advised to stay home, Anacoura, 49, adds: “I have COPD [Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] and I’m very apprehensive of getting coronavirus. I think shielding should be mandatory as it’s the only way I’ll be able to stay at home and not work.”



Boris Johnson riding a bicycle on a city street: A news display features Boris Johnson as shoppers make their way along the streets of Manchester.


© Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
A news display features Boris Johnson as shoppers make their way along the streets of Manchester.

Anacoura shielded until 1 August when she returned to work caring for a patient she has treated for 12 years. “I only go out to work and back, and I cover the night shifts on my own so I don’t have to mingle with others,” she says. “He [the patient] likes to go out during the day which is difficult for me, but I can’t, and won’t, not let him have a life.

“There is a pressure to keep working because I can’t expect my colleagues to continue to cover for me when shielding is not mandatory. It’s dangerous for me to work while the country is like this.”

She feels the government has “forgotten” about those who are at high risk of catching Covid. “The cases are rising and they’re doing nothing about the vulnerable. I understand that for some people shielding can be isolating, but I’m more anxious now than I was at the start of the pandemic, and I know I wouldn’t survive if I got it.”

This anxiety is shared by Jane Carter, an administrator in Bristol who has sarcoidosis, a rare inflammatory disease that usually affects the lungs and skin. “It’s quite scary but I’m incredibly lucky that my employer has been clear I should work from home,” says Carter, 46.

“I’m so concerned about how the government is communicating with us,” she adds. “I feel strongly that advisory shielding should be back in place. I’m aware some people don’t want to shield, and that is fine, but it came with a level of protection that is now not present.”

Carter lives on her own and is concerned she no longer gets enough exercise because she is anxious about going out. “I don’t move about as much and I have limited space. I did my own shopping during the summer but since cases have been rising I’ve gone back to online deliveries. I love living alone but I do wonder sometimes how long I will stay content with the situation as it is.

“It’s much scarier now we’ve seen how the virus affects people. I feel like I’m definitely missing out on things but I’d much rather that than get ill. Death is not necessarily the worst thing but being ill on my own would be.”

For furloughed hotel assistant manager Nicola Douglas, the prospect of returning to work fills her with dread. “I have been advised by my GP to shield until there is a vaccine but that’s not practical,” she says.

Douglas, 47, who lives on Holy Island in Northumberland and has secondary breast cancer, is due to return to work on 31 October when the furlough scheme ends. “My health will always come first and for a job like mine, which is public facing, I don’t see how it will ever be fully Covid safe.”

Douglas lives in an area where there are local restrictions but says she has never seen Holy Island busier than it was this summer. “It was great for business. I think it was mainly day-trippers wanting to get away for a break, and most people think that because it’s an island, it’s safer. We’re Covid-free so I guess they may be right.”

But she says it is hard watching other people, including family and friends, get on with their lives while she is shielding. “It’s like I’ve lost my freedom,” Douglas adds. “I’m getting a bit of cabin fever as the scenery never changes!

“It’s hard but it’s for my health – and at the end of the day that’s what you have to think of. I’m still alive but I don’t feel like I’m living.”

In north-west England, a 30-year-old nurse, who asked to remain anonymous, says he felt “guilty” for not working while he was shielding during lockdown. “I’m trained to help people and in April I felt like I wasn’t doing my part,” he adds. “It was difficult knowing my colleagues were frontline staff and I was just at home. It felt really lonely.”

He returned to work in a hospital in August but says he feels more anxious everyday because he takes immunosuppressants, leaving him at greater risk of dying from complications if he contracts Covid. “We have over 200 confirmed cases at work and I know that things will get worse over the winter months.”

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