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28 January 2022

Ending masks and isolation will kill vulnerable people

People say their human rights are being violated by Covid rules but they have no qualms about taking away my own.

By Rachel Charlton-Dailey

Last week Boris Johnson announced his latest changes to the pandemic restrictions in England: in brief, that he was scrapping most of them. As of yesterday, masks no longer need to be worn in public, and what has really spooked many of us is the suggestion that in the longer-term there will no compulsory isolation for those with Covid-19.

Many consider this the road to living with the virus but for the vulnerable it is simply the road to not living. Yesterday I simply felt nauseous deep within my stomach; I knew this meant that my already tiny world would be shrinking once again. As someone who lives with a whole host of illnesses including lupus, arthritis, asthma and osteoporosis (these are just the ones that qualify me as clinically extremely vulnerable to Covid-19) these past two years have been an awful time. My life outside the house at the moment is limited to daily dog walks and twice-weekly supermarket trips, but the realisation that even that would be unsafe now became too much.

Masks were the one thing that helped disabled and chronically ill people like myself to feel remotely protected. Knowing people will no longer wear them leaves me feeling scared to go out in public. No-one knows exactly how much masks limit transmission, it is true, but the majority of studies show that they work. It has become a matter of common decency to wear one. It is one thing to say “we can’t stay locked up forever”, but many would happily see people like me forced to stay in their homes so they no longer have to slip a bit of fabric over their face when on the Tube. They act as though their freedom and basic human rights are being stripped away when asked to cover their noses and mouths, but have no qualms about taking away my own freedom.

And then there is the proposal that people wouldn’t have to self-isolate upon catching Covid. How we have gone from ten days of isolation, to seven, five ⁠— and now just reversed the whole system, principle even, of isolation ⁠— is beyond me. A person having to self-isolate for five days (under fairly rare circumstances of catching Covid, given the peak of the Omicron variant wave has passed) is somehow seen as a bigger sacrifice than my life being at risk every time I leave the house.

It represents the worst aspect of the pandemic for me ⁠— not that I had to protect myself from a deadly virus, but that I’ve had to defend my right to live against people who think my life is collateral damage.

I can’t help feeling that the timing of this announcement is a little suspicious; Johnson is in a precarious position and he’d throw anyone under the bus to save his own skin. And unfortunately, where the Prime Minister is concerned, the vulnerable, the old and those whose voices cannot be heard are an easy target. 

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