THATOnce a week around 5:30 a.m., Hayley Ashton puts two masks on her face, disinfects a shopping cart with her handbag disinfectant, and then takes a deep breath before stepping into the fluorescent lights of her local supermarket in Leicester.
To Ashton, a 33-year-old project manager with a compromised immune system and severe asthma, these food outings feel like insidious expeditions where she risks serious illness or death. “It’s the only area you just can’t control,” she said.
In previous waves of Covid-19, Ashton was part of the government’s shielding programs, which meant she had access to measures like statutory sick pay, drug deliveries and priority shopping. Now how the Omicron variant pushes cases there is no such protection for recording levels.
“A pint of milk could cost me my life,” Ashton said. “And right now I have no government support to get these important things.”
Ashton is one of nearly 4 million Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) people in England who have been recommended by the government to shield them during previous waves of Covid. She said her clinician told her that if she contracted the virus, she would likely get seriously ill or die, making Omicron’s surge at a time of high anxiety and anxiety – made worse by ministers’ unwillingness to to take additional measures.
In these circumstances, many CEV people choose to shield themselves – they withdraw into their homes, drop out of social engagements, avoid public transport, and sometimes even leave front-line jobs to protect themselves.
“Our world has shrunk a lot,” said Sue Hardman, a 60-year-old retiree in Suffolk with severe asthma. “You just feel forgotten … It’s almost like there’s a group that doesn’t matter.”
Ashton said she felt “supported” by the shielding program at the beginning of the pandemic. But now she believes those with underlying diseases are at significant risk. “What people forget is for those in these vulnerable categories even if [Omicron is] easy, the probability [or risk] is that despite vaccines you still get seriously ill. “
For Zoe Pettigrew, a lawyer who previously lived in a shared flat in Bristol, the pandemic has meant the isolation of friends with her family in Cornwall since March 2020. Pettigrew, 33, has Crohn’s disease, which means he is on immunosuppressive drugs, and feels “completely forgotten” by the government. “That makes me so sad, but also angry,” she said. Pettigrew has not yet met her three-month-old nephew.
Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said last Wednesday the government was trying to avoid being faced with vaccines and new drugs – such as: Molnupiravir or Ronapreve – and the adverse effects on mental health. “The shield had some very obvious drawbacks for those involved in the shield – including loneliness and mental health issues,” he said.
A 2020 study found that shielding caused mental health deterioration from. led that. 35% of the CEV people. “So it’s not an area we want to go down if there’s a way to avoid it,” Whitty said.
But for Pettigrew, this ignores the toll of feeling compelled to protect, but without official ministerial approval. “It makes you feel like you’ve lost the plot,” she said.
Without government support, “it’s like being under house arrest,” said Colin Talbot, 69, a professor emeritus at the University of Manchester who is immunocompromised.
Some families, like Hardman’s, are canceling Christmas plans. Her 28-year-old son is no longer visiting after being exposed to friends who tested positive.
For others, it means giving up jobs they love. In Berwick-upon-Tweed, Rosie Purves, 36, has rheumatoid arthritis and is immunocompromised. Tests show that despite three doses of vaccine, she is deficient in Covid antibodies.
This fall, Purves left her job as a receptionist because of the risks of infection in the classroom and has received no government funding or other support. She urged the ministers: “Please don’t forget us.”
Others have taken their at-risk children out of schools, such as Laura Baines, a 44-year-old full-time carer for her CEV son Louie, 15. Pushing for safer measures in classrooms.
National charities like Crohn’s and Colitis UK, the National Aids Trust and Kidney Care UK said the government needed to provide more clarity and support to the shielders.
A division of Health and a social welfare spokesman said it had published “a set of guidelines for those previously considered clinically extremely vulnerable” and urged people to “discuss the necessary precautions with their specialist” and receive the booster vaccine.
Ashton wonders whether to spend Christmas alone or risk it with the family. “It’s a really scary time,” she said.