16 Jul Coronavirus: Natasha has been shielding for four months. How will disabled people cope when government support ends? | UK News
For four months Natasha Coates hasn’t stepped foot beyond her driveway, except to go to hospital.
The 25-year-old has been shielding due to a rare immune condition called Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.
It means she could have a potentially fatal allergic reaction with no trigger at any time.
The government has been supporting people who are “clinically extremely vulnerable”, urging them to shield by staying at home “as much as possible”.
It means some people, like Natasha, haven’t left the house since the lockdown started in March.
“I’m really anxious about the virus,” she said, masked and at a distance in her front garden in Nottingham.
“If I get what I refer to as ‘normal people ill’ such as a cough or a cold, that can be a problem, but for something that’s so unknown and so severe, it’s absolutely petrifying.”
But from 1 August, shielding to provide extra protection against COVID-19 for people like Natasha will be paused unless there’s a significant rise in the transmission of the virus in the community.
She said: “I’m nervous about the shielding ending, not only because it means the government support – such as food parcels and emotional support with people checking in on you – is no longer going to be there, but the fact that people are going to expect me to stop shielding.
“I don’t feel comfortable doing that. I don’t feel that it’s safe to go out. We don’t have a vaccine. There are still cases. I’m still at high risk.”
Natasha is not alone in her fears.
Only 5% of disabled people questioned in new research by YouGov said they will feel safe when the shielding guidance changes.
The survey also revealed that 20% say they will not leave home until there is a vaccine or effective treatment.
And 67% think the government’s plans for easing lockdown did not take their needs into consideration.
Now the disability charity Scope has sent an open letter to the prime minister from a coalition of campaigners calling for urgent action to prioritise the needs of the UK’s 14 million disabled people, who’ve been among the hardest hit during the pandemic.
James Taylor, the executive director of strategy, impact and social change for Scope, said many disabled people and their families feel forgotten.
“We want to see government do a couple of things,” he said.
“At the beginning of this year they committed to produce a new strategy to support disabled people and their families.
“We want to see that prioritised now and we want to see the needs of disabled people factored into all recovery planning whether that’s economic or societal.”
A spokesperson for the government said: “We are committed to supporting disabled people through every stage of this pandemic and continue to work across government to ensure that information and guidance is accessible and disabled people are able to get the support they need.
“We are working closely with local authorities to maintain access and deliver essential items to those who are most vulnerable, and are clear that where possible urgent and acute care needs should continue to be met.
“As we emerge from this unprecedented time we will continue to work with charities and stakeholders so disabled people are at the heart of our recovery.”
For Natasha, who is studying for a diploma in biblical studies and Christian ministry from home, the risks are simply too great to return to any form of normality any time soon.
“I think I will be ready to leave the house feeling less anxious when a vaccine is out and we have developed some form of herd immunity, even if that’s not until after Christmas.
“I’d rather be safe than sorry.”