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Shielding – So What Next?

June 17, 2020

I began shielding on 18th March 2020.  On Monday 15th June, the final day of my initial 12 weeks of shielding, I went ‘out out’, as Mickey Flanagan would state (rude language alert in the clip).  Only the fourth time since imprisoning myself, and the very first social trip out in three months.  My Sooterkin™ and I were trying to find a place outside London where I could get some vitamin D and exercise

We drove through south east London, teeming with non-socially distancing unmasked folks.  I played a fun game of spot the mask and spotted 47, 7 of whom were wearing it slung under their chins.  I get it, they were walking, risk is minimal.  Risk still exists though.  My local area, my neighbourhood, remains unsafe for me, so I cannot undertake local walks.

We made it to a park which Sooterkin™ had previously scoped out but the ‘relaxing’ of rules announced by PM Boris Johnson meant that it was heaving packed with so many people the car park was overflowing and people were in very close groups with no social distancing.  Again, no masks present.

We tried the Villa nearby, where Sooterkin™ works, but no, the walks were again packed, and people were not wearing masks nor were they socially distancing.  AAAARGH!

Simon's picture of me

Luckily Sooterkin™ knew of a nearby walk which is seldom trod as there is a more accessible route nearby.  It is still accessible, somewhat, but certainly not to those in wheelchairs or with worse mobility issues than I live with on one of my good days (on a bad day I could not have walked it).  I have at last had outside time!

I do not feel safe going outside now, and we have yet to receive updated shielding advice in England, which is due in the week commencing Monday 15th June.  However, the easing of the lockdown has made it much less safe for shielding people like me; in my case it is because of my chronic lymphocytic leukaemia so I am very vulnerable to any form of infection.  In just that one day, I saw how I should not leave the house in my local area, and that I can only access safe outdoor spaces if by car, so have an environmental impact to consider when deciding whether to brave stepping beyond my front door.

I know many of my fellow shielders feel the same way and have felt forgotten or tacked on as an afterthought throughout official advice and decision-making in this pandemic.  The scientific advice is there so why is it taking so long to update advice?  Our employers need to know, should we have them.  Many are already being told they have to return on 1st July 2020 because that is what the government says we should do.  The furlough scheme is to continue until October, but at greatly reduced rates and at the employer’s costs.  The fact shielding is guidance and not a rule means employees do not have legal backing if they should face pressure to return; there may be a case for disability discrimination but such cases are incredibly hard and very expensive to fight.

I take all my medical advice with regard to Covid-19 from the Blood Cancer UK website.  The only thing the government could say which is relevant to me is the date upon which shielding is to end.  We have heard nothing, and there are only 13 days left as at the date of writing for such information to be provided, updated letters to be sent out and employers (if relevant) to be informed.  I didn’t receive my initial shielding letter for over a month after shielding started.  This does not give me hope.

Shielding is a very broad category which takes no account of environment, type of illness, potential risk within the extremely vulnerable groups, age, employment, whether one has dependents or not, or even the impact one’s lifestyle may have.  We’ve all just been told to shield.  It’s very difficult to ascertain our personal level of risk, and that’s why I only use the above website to determine my choices.

So what next?  I have no idea, and I am terrified, angry and my depression is exacerbated.  I don’t think I’m expecting much in wanting the science to be used and a decision to be made.  The information is available.  UK government, please, I’m begging you to use it.  For all shielders’ sakes.

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