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Government ends Covid-19 shielding - but vulnerable residents are left ‘confused’

PUBLISHED: 14:34 05 August 2020 | UPDATED: 14:49 05 August 2020

People who have been shielding can now return to 'normal' - but many are worried. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA

People who have been shielding can now return to 'normal' - but many are worried. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA

PA Wire/PA Images

People at the highest risk to Covid-19 had been shielding at home since March.

Janet Shapiro, chair of Hornsey Pensioners Action Group. Picture: ArchantJanet Shapiro, chair of Hornsey Pensioners Action Group. Picture: Archant

On August 1, this vulnerable group of more than two million - including people undergoing chemotherapy and those with immunodeficiencies or respiratory conditions - were told they no longer need to shield.

The government says that as infection levels of Covid-19 in the community are falling, the risk of contracting the virus is declining.

People who were shielding can leave their homes for the first time but they are being told to maintain social distancing.

Councils say they will continue to support their most vulnerable residents.

Isobel Salisbury, from Crouch End, says she has lost all trust in the government. Picture: Isobel SalisburyIsobel Salisbury, from Crouch End, says she has lost all trust in the government. Picture: Isobel Salisbury

The local authorities in Camden, Haringey and Barnet say former shielders will be prioritised for online food deliveries, support with prescriptions and telephone befriending services.

But with the virus still at large, we spoke to residents who have been shielding about the isolation they have faced, “mixed” messaging and how they are approaching the new guidance.

Sheila, Queen’s Crescent

Councils have been compiling and delivering food parcels for shielders. Picture: Jane Barlow/PACouncils have been compiling and delivering food parcels for shielders. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA

Sheila, 68, who has been shielding in her council home, is disabled, has been treated for breast cancer and suffers from severe asthma.

Sheila has been receiving weekly food parcels from Queen’s Crescent Community Centre and she struggles with wearing a mask for a prolonged period.

The 68-year-old said shielding had been a “very difficult, isolating” time and that the advice she received seemed to be muddled.

She asked: “Are we safe to go out? Should we go and see our grandchildren?

“Are they allowed to come and see you? I find the whole thing really confusing.

“I don’t think the messaging is very clear and I don’t feel confident.”

Johnny Sueke, “octogenarian”, Hampstead

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Johnny was accustomed to making the most of the JW3 community centre in Finchley Road before lockdown, but as he is in his 80s, lockdown has been spent at home.

As a committee member of the centre’s Abraham Discussion and Debating Society, he and his seven similarly aged colleagues have kept themselves busy by overseeing a huge expansion of their group over Zoom.

He said: “Even now, I don’t really go out.

“I tend to do walks from home and in general, the other’s go out more than me, it seems. It’s a matter for each of us and how comfortable we feel.”

With a phlegmatic attitude to the risks of a ‘second wave’ – “we just don’t know, do we?” – Johnny is concentrating on what he can control – Zoom, and staying in touch with friends.

Janet Shapiro, Hornsey Pensioners Action Group chair

Janet, 81, who has non-Hodgkin lymphoma, has been shielding in Muswell Hill.

She told the Ham&High that now she is beginning to venture out cautiously.

Janet says she is deeply concerned about the potential “double whammy” of a spike in coronavirus cases in the winter being overseen by a government she does not trust.

Although she received government food parcels, she found they were more than she needed, and began to donate them to food banks – particularly after she was able to register for online shopping.Looking forward, she said: “I am following my own interpretation of how to avoid infection and I trust the Independent Sage more than government regulations.”

Isobel Salisbury, Crouch End

Isobel Salisbury, 66, has primary immunodeficiency and she has been shielding at home since the beginning of March.

She has only gone on brief, occasional walks with her son who has delivered her shopping to her front door.

Isobel said the period of total isolation worsened her mental health and increased her 
anxiety. She said the government’s “lack of clarity” was “appalling” and that she had “lost all trust” in their handling of the crisis.

“The government didn’t take responsibility to uphold any form of rules,” Isobel said.

“People were left to make their own decision and that’s not a way to manage something like a pandemic.”

Isobel said that despite the altered government guidelines, she would continue to shield at home.


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