Still feel 'vulnerable' - Family shares struggle to return to normal life
- Credit: Zoe Rowntree
With the majority of society taking easing measures in their stride, for one Norfolk family the thought of heading out leaves them feeling stressed and vulnerable.
Non-essential retail, zoos, and outdoor hospitality reopened for the first time this year resulting in thousands heading out to enjoy the freedoms allowed under the new restrictions.
Though for scores of families in Norfolk and Waveney, it still does not feel the right time to go back to normal.
Zoe Rowntree, from Dereham, has been shielding with her husband Keith and two sons for more than a year, only leaving the house for a few remote walks and to pick up prescriptions when others have not been able to.
Her youngest son, 12, is classed as clinically extremely vulnerable due to a rare medical condition that affects his immune system, with catching a cold likely to cause him to be "knocked out" for several weeks, but due to his age is not yet eligible for a vaccine.
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Her eldest son, 17, is asthmatic and has a low immune system, but will receive his first vaccine next week.
The family has continued to watch case numbers and last September booked to visit the zoo, but found it "stressful" due to concerns around others social distancing.
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As a result, they only feel comfortable at this time to go out to places they can privately hire, to limit contact with other people.
She said: "We have chosen to remain shielding as not everyone feels in a safe position for it to end.
"The biggest issue is other people's behaviour when your out and about so it makes it difficult to even try and attend outdoor places.
"It was a dreadful experience. We did not stay for our full afternoon, it was just too stressful for everyone.
"There are a lack of places to hire privately and/or lack of understanding if you want to ask about cleaning methods in between visitors, even when you're happy to pay more for extra cleaning to take place.
"They say 'We're following the Covid rules.' With clinically extremely vulnerable children we want to know what these are, people have a different view and standards of cleaning."
The family is hopeful of the vaccination process, but the risk was still too great while her youngest son was not vaccinated around those who were asymptomatic.
Mrs Rowntree said: "That's only the first [vaccine] and it doesn't stop us getting it.
"It is great that the vaccine is working and we're hoping it is helping, the lockdown has helped but has that given us a false sense of security?
"For us to go out at the moment when you have one child that can't have the vaccine, we feel more vulnerable.
"I'm very pleased other people can go out, I have no problem with that. If we were in a different situation, we would be heading out as well."
Mrs Rowntree said this has raised concerns about the end of vital services to shielding families such as priority shopping slots and stores stopping their tray liners for deliveries.
The family wash all of their shopping to prevent the spread of the virus, but also due to Mrs Rowntree's latex allergy - which is usually delivered by staff wearing protective gloves.
She added numerous times she had been told "you're fine to go back to normal".
The 39-year-old said: "There is a lack of support from services and expectations that because a man in a suit had said 'it's okay' you shouldn't ask and have your shielding needs met in anyway anymore.
"People should be aware there are families that are still shielding and not to forget about us.
I cannot see a huge amount being able to change for us the most part of the year."
Readers commenting via social media said that concerns came because they or loved ones could not have a coronavirus vaccine, leaving them at high risk.
Others said they wished to wait until they had their second vaccine.