The government’s plans for ‘Living with Covid,’ which includes the official lifting of all COVID-19 restrictions in England, has caused great joy for many, signaling the end of the pandemic in England and a return to ‘normality.’ However, is everyone jumping ahead of themselves here? Because for many vulnerable and disabled individuals this signals nothing more than reignited fears and a return to lockdown conditions. Especially at a time where Coronavirus cases remain high, it seems extremely selfish and alienating to assume everyone can just ‘Live with Covid.’ For some, living with Covid is not an option, as they risk hospitalisation, or even death.
On February 24 2022, Boris Johnson announced the official lifting of all Covid-19 restrictions. This includes scrapping facemasks, not working from home, and not being legally required to self-isolate after testing positive for the virus, amongst others. This may seem premature given that Covid cases remain extremely high, with 234,103 positive cases being recorded between 22 and 28 February. Combined with the presence of 3.7 million clinically extremely vulnerable people residing in the UK, the government seems to be neglecting the needs of its most vulnerable citizens.
Whilst signaling freedom for some, the lives of many vulnerable communities will once again return to life during lockdown. Emma Vogelmann, who suffers from spinal muscular dystrophy, expresses her fears at the lifting of restrictions, which is causing her to act “as careful as [she] was at the very beginning of the pandemic.” Despite vaccines to combat the virus being accessible, contracting Covid can still be very dangerous, and individuals who are immunocompromised may not experience the benefits, leaving them entirely unprotected. Therefore, the decision to lift restrictions forces individuals, such as Vogelmann, to confine themselves to their houses, many of which have already been doing this since the start of the pandemic. This just doesn’t seem fair that whilst many people are able to experience the activities they used to enjoy: concerts, dining out, and socialising, vulnerable communities are further shut out from society, fearing the severe consequences of contracting the virus.
Vogelmann believes that there is a dangerous assumption that those who are “still shielding and taking measures to keep ourselves safe…want to do it,” and are merely being overly-precautious. However, for many vulnerable individuals, this is a necessary survival strategy, preventing them from the worst-case scenario, death. She highlights that if measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing, were put back in place, this would have little effect on the majority of people’s day-to-day lives but would have a huge impact in making vulnerable people feel more protected and safer. Ultimately, society needs to open its eyes to the situations of vulnerable communities, who have already made incredible sacrifices. Whilst we all wish to return to a life pre-covid, we cannot pretend it is not still a major threat for certain individuals, and therefore, must act accordingly.
The overlooking of vulnerable and disabled communities’ safety in this latest decision seems to signal an overall neglect of the needs of these communities in wider society. Anne Wafalu Strike, a Paralympian and survivor of Polio, believes the government has completely neglected the disabled community throughout the pandemic. For instance, individuals with educational and learning disabilities were initially not on the priority list for vaccinations, despite being five times more likely to be hospitalised, and eight times more likely to die from Covid. She asserts that “a caring society would have made this group a priority and considered their needs when planning to lift restrictions.” It seems we have selfishly taken a very ableist position when it comes to Covid measures.
The government plans to implement a further booster jab for vulnerable individuals in the Spring. Whilst this is a necessary move to further safety and protection for vulnerable individuals, it just doesn’t seem enough. Particularly as the date is yet to be confirmed, individuals are currently left without any further protection, despite the increasingly dangerous conditions facing them. Also, those who are immunocompromised are unlikely to gain any of the benefits from the vaccine, rendering them helpless in the face of the virus. Continuously, the needs of vulnerable communities are being overlooked as the vaccine only goes so far.
After 1 April 2022, lateral flow tests will no longer be free and only available to buy once every three days to prevent widespread stockpiling. Reportedly, tests could cost between £2 and £5 each, or between £20 and £30 for a seven-pack. The government will, however, issue a list of individuals and vulnerable groups entitled to free tests, such as care home residents and hospital patients. Although, this does nothing to help friends and families of vulnerable individuals who are now less able to access test kits if they wish to visit. Friends and families would be extremely cautious to avoid passing on the virus to their vulnerable loved ones, whilst vulnerable individuals would be equally as fearful of contracting the virus from visitors. Therefore, testing before visits would be essential. However, the price of test kits quickly adds up, and only being able to order them every few days limits the frequency of potential visits. Ultimately, making these test kits less accessible further alienates the vulnerable and disabled community from society.
The last two years have taken an incredible toll on everyone’s lives. Society must remember, however, that everyone desires a return to normality, and this should not come at the expense of anyone’s health or safety. The decision to lift restrictions has had an alienating effect on a large proportion of disabled and vulnerable individuals, sending the message that their needs just aren’t as important as the rest of the population. Until their safety can be secured, and cases finally do go down, it seems selfish and unfair to lift Covid restrictions. Expecting everyone to simply ‘Live with Covid’ is a dangerous and privileged perspective when this is not an option for many people.
Words by Hannah Robinson
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