Clinically extremely vulnerable must not be forgotten when restrictions ease, charity warns

New guidance for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable will leave many feeling they are “on their own” without support when remaining coronavirus restrictions are eased in England next week, a charity has warned.

Disability equality charity Scope said that while lots of disabled people were looking forward to things opening up from Monday July 19 many were still “extremely concerned”.

It said that Government guidance, which advises those most at risk from the virus to continue meeting outside where possible and ask friends and family to take lateral flow tests before visiting, will make vulnerable people feel as though they are on their own.

The charity’s head of policy and campaigns, Louise Rubin (pictured), said: “This guidance will cause frustration for many people who are on the clinically extremely vulnerable list, especially people who are immunocompromised.

“Throughout the pandemic, clinically extremely vulnerable people have felt forgotten and that their lives are seen as expendable.

“This guidance will make many clinically extremely vulnerable people feel they are on their own, having to rely on others taking responsibility, and without the support to keep themselves safe.”

Ms Rubin questioned why the Government was taking away vital support when Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said the pandemic was not over.

She added: “Those most at risk have no concrete or consistent protections at work. Supermarket priority slots have been taken away. Furlough is due to come to an end.

“This guidance is essentially asking people to shield, without offering even the minimal support which has been available throughout the pandemic.”

Her comments come as new Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, published on Tuesday, showed that from June 21-26 some 29% of clinically extremely vulnerable people said they were continuing to shield, despite the shielding guidance being relaxed in April.

Fewer than four out of 10 (37%) clinically extremely vulnerable people reported feeling comfortable or very comfortable going to hospitality, cultural or educational settings, compared with 70% going to a hospital or GP surgery, the ONS said.

Of those who were not comfortable going out to healthcare, hospitality, educational or cultural settings, the most commonly reported measures that would help put them at ease included mandatory face coverings and measures at venues to enable social distancing.

The Government advice acknowledges how difficult social distancing has been for people who were advised to shield in the past, as it suggests a series of measures to reduce the risk of the virus spreading once restrictions are lifted.

It suggests meeting outdoors wherever possible to reduce the risk of airborne transmission, and ensuring that indoor spaces are well ventilated.

Other measures suggested include “considering whether you and those you are meeting have been vaccinated”, as well as “asking friends and family to take a lateral flow test before visiting you”.

In terms of going shopping or to a pharmacy, those who are most at risk will be advised to follow the guidance that applies to the rest of the population from July 19.

But the guidance adds: “You may still wish to consider going to the shops and pharmacy at quieter times of the day.”

Wearing a face covering in crowded areas, such as public transport, may make those classed as clinically extremely vulnerable “feel more relaxed”, guidance published on Monday evening suggested.

The updated advice is aimed at the estimated 3.7 million in the clinically extremely vulnerable group, which includes people with certain cancers and those with severe respiratory conditions.

But the charity Blood Cancer UK said that specific support was needed for the 500,000 people within the clinically extremely vulnerable group who have compromised immune systems and for whom vaccines will not work as well.

Its chief executive Gemma Peters added: “If the Government thinks this constitutes adequate support for people with blood cancer at a time when many of them are hugely worried about the spread of the virus, I am afraid we can add it to the long list of times the Government has let them down.

“This guidance contains little by way of practical support for people with blood cancer as they try to keep safe over the difficult weeks ahead.”

Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Munira Wilson questioned whether the Government was pursuing a “survival of the fittest” policy where the “most vulnerable will be thrown to the wolves”.

She raised concerns over the impact of easing restrictions on the vulnerable, telling the Commons: “They and many clinically vulnerable people, such as pregnant women, are living in fear of what living with Covid means for them.”

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