Column: Lifting COVID-19 restrictions puts people with disabilities at risk

Rachel Charlton-Dailey (she/them) is an award-winning journalist specializing in health and disability. Her work has appeared in publications such as Healthline, Huffpost, Metro UK, The Guardian and Business Insider. Charlton-Dailey regularly uses their platform to focus on issues affecting people with disabilities. Here, she explains how the UK’s COVID policy is not enough to protect the most vulnerable.

Being an immunocompromised person in England where I live is a very scary time as the Omicron COVID-19 variant continues to spread. While it is encouraging that daily COVID-19 cases continue to decline, progress remains slow.

At a 7-day rolling average of 153 cases per 100,000 people in early February 2022, the number of cases in the UK is still higher than before the last peak December 2021. So when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he would lift most of England’s COVID-19 restrictions by late January 2022, it was worrying news for disabled people like me.

This means that wearing a mask in public is no longer a legal requirement, working from home is no longer required, and you will no longer need to show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test or vaccination to attend events.

Why the UK PM can only change England’s Covid-19 rules

While Boris Johnson is the UK Prime Minister, the UK government is really only responsible for England’s lockdown and COVID-19 restrictions. This is because, as devolved countries, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all responsible for their own public health policies.

While many say it’s an important part of “getting back to normal” and “living with the virus,” it’s scary for those of us most vulnerable to COVID-19. We know we cannot learn to live with the virus, and returning to normal means excluding us from everyday life.

Column: Disabled people cannot learn to live with COVID

Until restrictions are lifted, masks will be mandatory in shops, restaurants, cafes and hospitals, as well as in any other indoor public spaces.Although fewer and fewer people wear them due to complacency over time, the fact remains that many still Yes Make people with disabilities and chronic illnesses like me feel safe.

I spent most of 2020 isolating at home and minimising face-to-face contact with others, then started doing so again at the end of the year [2021]. This is because I am in what the UK government classifies as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ due to my multiple chronic illnesses.I barely saw any family and friends for most of January [2022], but cautiously, I’m starting to see them again because COVID-19 cases seem to be decreasing. I’m lucky that owning a dog means I can go out for a walk every day and see my neighbors outside, but I realize that my already small world is going to have to shrink again because no one will be wearing a mask.

Masks are one thing that helps disabled and chronically ill people like me feel protected. Knowing that people will no longer wear them in the UK makes me feel very scared to go out in public.

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For the better part of the past two years, I’ve been worried about what would happen if I got the virus a second time; I got it in March 2020. Of course, people say Omicron is no worse than a cold. But while I may not know how bad it would be for me if I caught it, I couldn’t risk what it would do to my already weakened body.

Masks are one thing that helps disabled and chronically ill people like me feel protected. Knowing that people will no longer wear them in the UK makes me feel very scared to go out in public.

I am lucky that being a freelance journalist means I can continue to work from home, but many others are not so lucky. Ending working from home means many employers can insist that their employees return to the office and face the risk of contracting COVID-19, no matter how vulnerable they are. The hope is that with the success of working from home, many employers will allow employees to work from where they are most comfortable, but there is no guarantee.

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While the pandemic has taken a toll on my body in terms of fatigue and physical symptoms, non-disabled people have taken the most toll on my mental health. Not only did they ignore my concerns, but they actively expected me to sacrifice my safety so they could live a normal life.

Although the mask-wearing rule was only lifted last week, the number of cases in England has risen markedly. If this continues undisguised, I fear another surge.

Of course, for many vaccinated people, Omicron is not a huge problem. But for me and other disabled people like me, the end of mask wearing in the UK means the return of protection. Worse still, no one seemed to care.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may have updated information as you read this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus news page.