‘Think of us’ - plea from ‘at risk’ groups over coronavirus spread

PUBLISHED: 12:16 11 March 2020 | UPDATED: 13:18 11 March 2020

Hand sanitisers in London. Left, Petra Bissett and her daughter and, right, Lørna Reevell with daughter Daisy. Photo: Philip Toscano/PA wire, Petra Bissett and Lørna Reevell

Hand sanitisers in London. Left, Petra Bissett and her daughter and, right, Lørna Reevell with daughter Daisy. Photo: Philip Toscano/PA wire, Petra Bissett and Lørna Reevell


Washing our hands has been the government’s main line of defence against coronavirus - keep clean, and you might just keep clear of the disease.

Notices up at a medical centre after coronavirus fears. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYNotices up at a medical centre after coronavirus fears. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

It's one of a handful of pieces of official advice. With a case yet to reach Norfolk and people, generally, continuing life as normal, Number 10 is approaching a crossroads in its handling of the outbreak.

For those considered to be at a higher risk - namely the elderly or those with underlying health conditions - the need for answers is somewhat more pressing.

Petra Bissett, from Norwich, says the outbreak has intensified worries over her 12-year-old daughter, who lives with a heart condition.

Heart disease - along with other underlying conditions - does not necessarily increase a person's risk of catching coronavirus, which is a respiratory disease, but can increase risk of complications and side effects.

'She was born with congenital heart disease, so she had two holes in her heart which were quite big,' Ms Bissett said. 'She has a coronary artery anomaly, and the right side of her heart is enlarged. It's a life-threatening condition.'

Their advice so far has been limited - to keep washing their hands and not panic.

'I am aware it's getting closer now, and have thought about whether I need to take her out of school,' she said.

The government has moved to reassure the public that in the vast majority of cases, patients will make a full recovery.

A coronavirus unit installed at hospitals across the region.  Picture: Chris BishopA coronavirus unit installed at hospitals across the region. Picture: Chris Bishop

But she said people in good health needed to remember that measures to stop spreading the disease were vital for those at risk.

'People need to consider others, and that there are very vulnerable people out there,' she said. 'A common cold and chest infection might potentially kill my daughter.'

Ms Bissett isn't alone. When we asked people with underlying conditions for their experiences, many spoke of rising anxiety brought on by the spread and confusion over how their condition would actually impact them.

For many it will remain a watching brief - care homes, for example, are balancing precaution with business as usual.

Daisy and Lørna Reevell. Photo: Lørna ReevellDaisy and Lørna Reevell. Photo: Lørna Reevell

Kingsley Healthcare, which has several residential care homes in East Anglia, has set up a special committee including senior staff and its company GP to draw up 'a comprehensive strategy to counter any impacts coronavirus may bring', according to a spokesman.

He said the company had emailed its 1,700 staff and families of residents to brief them on its strategy and was closely following government guidance, having not yet imposed restrictions on visits or cancelled events.

'However, we will immediately respond to fresh government advice and be very mindful of how the situation changes daily at a national and regional level,' he said. 'All the time, we will be keeping residents, families and staff up to date with the situation.'

MORE: People warned to be braced for tighter measures and potential school closures

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Norse Care Limited, which operates 20 residential care homes and looks after 1,500 people, the majority of whom are aged 65 and above, said they were monitoring the situation, and following government guidance.

In north Norfolk, 73-year-old Sue, who did not wish to give her surname, has been taking precautions to protect her and her husband, 78.

'We are aware we are in a vulnerable category, in so far as that we are in our 70s,' she said. 'We don't have underlying health conditions... I'm fit and healthy physically but I do have generalised anxiety disorder, and because of the uncertainty and mixed messages it has brought my anxiety levels quite high and I'm having to battle with myself to try and not let my anxiety spill through to my husband.'

She said they were doing what they could, including looking into weekly food shop deliveries, buying surgical spirit to spray on surfaces while out and using a scrub which offers six-hour protection from viruses.

Petra Bissett, pictured with her daughter. Photo: Petra BissettPetra Bissett, pictured with her daughter. Photo: Petra Bissett

But she said she would like to see the government release figures on how many people - in particular, elderly people - had recovered from the disease.

'At the moment it just feels like if you get it over 70 then that's it,' she said.

She added: 'The more blasé people are, however young or old they are, however much they think they can just ignore experts and scientific advice, the quicker our country becomes like Italy.'

Lørna Reevell, from Martham, and her 14-year-old daughter Daisy both live with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue, which causes heart conditions and muscular, skeletal and eye problems.

A Coronavirus hand sanitiser station. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYA Coronavirus hand sanitiser station. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

She said: 'It's knowing that you are in part of that group that puts you at risk, but not necessarily knowing how it's going to affect, that's the worrying thing.'

She said the pair recently visited Great Ormond Street Hospital, in London, and opted to walk part of their journey in the capital rather than taking the tube.

'We both keep it in perspective but we both said we feel nervous about being somewhere other than your own home,' she said.

She said it was key for those in good health to remember that the impact can be severe.

'Somebody who is really well, they probably still have got a family member or a friend who actually doesn't have the benefit of good health, and if they felt responsible for making someone they live and care about vulnerable, that would be awful.'

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