With just one week to go until 19 July, when all remaining social distancing restrictions are to end in England, the numbers of cases and hospitalisations are rising sharply.
Four Guardian readers who are at high risk of getting ill from the virus share their thoughts.
‘I can’t just sit indoors all the time’
For Jodee Lofthouse in Rochester, Kent, living with the autoimmune condition Addison’s disease means she is on steroids for life. “I have to take four lots a day and simple viruses are a threat to me, let alone Covid,” she said.
Lofthouse said she is “very worried” about the further easing of restrictions and doesn’t understand why people wouldn’t wear face masks indoors when they are around others. “I fear the abuse I might receive after 19 July for wearing one. I’ve already experienced people being rude about my sunflower lanyard, which indicates someone has a hidden disability,” said the bookkeeper, 42.
Though she is fully vaccinated, she has concerns about the increased risk of infection of the Delta variant and shielding is not possible for her as she has a seven-year-old daughter whom she takes to school. “They are busy environments, but I can’t just sit indoors all the time,” she said. “If I were to end up in hospital, it would be for a long time and would be very frightening for her.”
‘The government is ignoring people who need the most care’
“It’s probably the worst idea ever,” said 52-year-old Amy in Nottingham, who has cirrhosis and is at high risk of becoming seriously ill if she catches Covid. “I don’t feel the government’s emphasis has been on people’s health, and I’m quite frightened about what’s going to happen.”
Amy, who works as an administrator and has been working from home since March last year, is “scared” because her employer says she may need to return to the workplace soon. “Once I get there, I have an office of my own, but the problem is I don’t have a car and would have to take public transport,” she said.
She has received both of her vaccinations, but said her specialist is unsure as to what extent it will provide her with immunity. “If I go back out mingling with people who have not been vaccinated or are not taking precautions, then I’m really at risk.
“I have absolutely no confidence in the way the government is working and I think it is really ignoring the people who need the most care.”
‘When you have an invisible illness, everyone thinks you’re fine’
“Masks are not for you, but for other people,” said Dave Everitt, who is in his 60s and lives in the east Midlands. “I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding around masks and there needs to be more awareness about why people wear them.”
Everitt, who is an educator working in IT, said his chronic lymphocytic leukaemia is not the only thing that makes him vulnerable to Covid, but the autoimmune haemolytic anaemia which developed as a result, which affects his immune response. “We’ve been self-isolating for more than a year, but my wife and I have no problems meeting people who are vaccinated and regularly testing outside in pub gardens,” he said. “If you have no symptoms and there’s plenty of ventilation, fine, but if you are coughing and sneezing in an enclosed space, that’s not OK.
“When you have an invisible illness, everyone thinks you’re fine. It feels like I have to wear a T-shirt saying I’m critically vulnerable. A blanket rule obliging people to wear masks is probably not the right thing, but there does need to be some flexibility that can only work if people are properly informed about masks and how they can help.”
‘It’s the sheer numbers that concern me’
Rhys Watkins, 65, a retired GP from Gloucester, is also worried.
“I have a condition called bronchiectasis, which makes me clinically vulnerable. I’ve been fully vaccinated for a while, which is great, and has allowed me to go around freely again to some extent. But I feel that the risk of Covid spreading unchecked will increase so I will have to reduce my outside activities.
“I have returned to work as a Covid vaccinator and regret the recent slowdown in vaccinations. It feels horribly like a rerun of ‘eat out to help out’, which preceded an immediate surge in infections in September last year. Nothing is yet an irreversible progress.”
For Watkins, it’s simply a question of numbers. “Some people who are doubly vaccinated will still get Covid – vaccines aren’t perfect. It’s the sheer numbers that concern me: if 15,000 people attend a rugby game in my city, you’re going to get significant rising number of cases, and huge numbers of people, including many young people, may get long Covid.
“I’m concerned about hospital activity being directed towards Covid admissions, which will prevent normal healthcare being resumed.
“I love going to theatres and sporting events, but if cases rise, which I expect, for the autumn it will certainly affect my decisions.”