What does the end of shielding mean for people in Norfolk?
PUBLISHED: 11:29 31 July 2020 | UPDATED: 14:03 31 July 2020
For the last 19 weeks, thousands of people in Norfolk with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to coronavirus have been confined to their homes while shielding. But from Saturday, August 1, they will no longer be required to. Clarissa Place found out how they felt about that prospect.
In Norfolk alone an estimated 41,000 people had to shield.
They were trapped in their homes and gardens for weeks, many went without any human contact and many will have suffered from depression and loneliness as a consequence.
Yet, despite all this, news that from Saturday, August 1 shielding is no longer a requirement for those classed as vulnerable, is not as welcome as you may at first think. There’s no general feeling that we are at the end of this crisis and that those who suffer from underlying health conditions are less vulnerable than they were at the height of the pandemic.
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The government said those shielding are encouraged to stay home as much as possible but may go out to more places including work and school and maintain two metres social distancing.
In Norfolk, the county council has announced services will continue to support shielders after August 1.
But for shielders across Norfolk the relaxing of shielding has left them feeling anxious and extremely cautious about venturing out of the house.
Kate Gordon, from Downham Market, is an admin for the Shielders United UK Facebook group, which was set up to support and distract people during the pandemic and has grown to 3,100 members.
The 30-year-old, who has been shielding due to her own health conditions, including brittle asthma, initially moved into a caravan in the garden away from her family, which includes two key workers.
She returned home after falling ill and taken to hospital.
Mrs Gordon said: “Our main goal at the moment is to support those that are going out to slowly adjust to the ‘new norm’ and let each other know that it is ok to not be okay.
“For me I am quite a positive person, although when the letter came saying that I had to shield, I did cry and from talking to others I know I was not alone in that.
“I am still anxious about the pause, more so than I thought I would be. Again I know I’m not alone with these feelings. I have taken small steps one of these was a trip to the zoo for the last slot, I hardly saw anyone but when anyone walked my way my anxiety went sky high.
“Although for me it was a very scary and upsetting time, I am glad that step is over and done with, although the anxiety is definitely still there and it Will be for a while.”
Mrs Gordon said while she will not be going back to work yet, she felt for those that do not have a choice.
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She added: “I would not necessarily say I feel reassured. Shielding has had a big impact on people’s mental health and I feel it took a while for this to truly be recognised. I feel there should be more support or more awareness of the support available. To help shielders with this next stage.”
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Lesley Nelson, from Hempnall, South Norfolk, underwent revolutionary CAR-T treatment for stage four lymphoma in November last year which destroyed muscle and nerve in her leg as well as compromised her immune system.
Shielding began for the 54-year-old on March 9, four weeks before receiving her shielding letter. In the process she could not say goodbye to her youngest son who moved out the night of lockdown.
She said: “I couldn’t even hug him goodbye. That was hard.
“I am fortunate enough to live in a rural area so could walk round the park or round the village without seeing anyone. My husband continued to work from home so we were safe together.”
During lockdown, Mrs Nelson had access to a free food box from the council, and her husband would journey to the local small shop for supplies, washing items that came into the house before putting them away - something she thinks will continue for some time.
She added: “I am glad it’s coming to an end but I have noticed many people not social distancing so I fear another wave. It will be nice to go into a shop again but I will be exceedingly careful to keep away from people and not touch what I don’t have to.”
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Samantha Beckwith has been shielding at home after she and her sister Lucy had a kidney transplant and while she is less worried than before, she said she does not feel ready to go out.
The sisters both have a rare genetic condition called cystinosis and have been at home in Hingham with their parents.
The 23-year-old, who works in retail, said; “I’m not ready to go out and about at all. We’ve been going for daily exercise, but that’s all. We are continuing to get home deliveries for food and we haven’t been anywhere into any buildings but our local doctors since March.
“I am lucky to have my job supporting me, but I’m worried some aren’t as fortunate and the Government “ending” things could be so dangerous to many. Some of us cannot just simply go back to normal and I am not going into shops because they say I can. It’s not worth the risk.
“Overall, I am disappointed with the Government forgetting about us for so long and barely talking about us on the news.”
In Norfolk, the county’s Resilience Forum, which set up the community resilience delivery group, will still offer support, including for those isolating due to test and trace.
Support to access shopping, collection of medication and befriending will be carried out by Voluntary Norfolk volunteers, of which there has been 3,400 since the start of the pandemic.
The Norfolk Assistance Scheme (NAS) is also available to support people through financial struggles. People should apply directly to the scheme online, or by calling 01603 223392 and selecting option 5.
If you require help with shopping or other services, call the council on 0344 800 8020.
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