Op-Ed: Disabled People Feel Left out of U.K. COVID-19 Plans—Again

a white woman wearing small reindeer antlers looks out the window sadly

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Rachel Charlton-Dailey (she/they) is an award-winning journalist specializing in health and disability. Their work is featured in publications such as Healthline, Huffpost, Metro UK, The Guardian, and Business Insider. Charlton-Dailey often uses their platform to spotlight issues that affect disabled people. Here, they explain how COVID policies in the U.K. aren't strong enough to protect the most vulnerable.

On December 23, the United Kingdom reported its highest number of daily recorded COVID-19 figures since the pandemic began, with 106,122. The previous record was 68,053 on January 8, 2021, when the U.K. was in lockdown.

The U.K. government is tackling the rise with a renewed push for everyone to get a booster shot of the COVID vaccine. All adults over age 18 are currently eligible as long as they had their second dose of the vaccine at least three months ago. You are also eligible if you are 16 years old and have a serious health condition or are the main carer for someone who is at high risk or is pregnant

While there is a major drive for everyone to get vaccinated, many “healthy” people are still carrying on life as “normal,” while the vulnerable are left to once again fear for our lives.

There has been little messaging about changing anything else in our lives, so for many people, the focus is still on “getting back to normal.”

However, for the vulnerable, there is no such thing as "normal." Many of us have taken it upon ourselves to shield again, although we do not have the protections of the shielding program this time around.

Face masks are supposed to be worn in all public spaces but many people ignore the rule, making shopping for essentials a scary experience for anyone with a weak immune system.

With so many new COVID cases, you would think that lockdown would be imminent, but the U.K. government is still dragging its feet. The latest from U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson after an English government cabinet meeting on December 20, was that although the situation is “extremely difficult," no new measures are being imposed in England currently.

However, the fear is that even if a lockdown was announced now, in the middle of the holidays, many nondisabled people would ignore the restrictions. Johnson and many people working in Downing Street are caught up in a controversy over Christmas parties that happened last December while the country was plunged back into the toughest restrictions it had faced since the beginning of the pandemic. 

With many people feeling complacent about following the rules—as they will have been vaccinated, after all—the risk for vulnerable people has increased. Since research has shown that clinically vulnerable people may generate lower levels of antibodies than healthy recipients after they get vaccinated, it feels like we’ve been thrown under the bus again.

While many nonvulnerable people are limiting their actions now so that they can enjoy a big holiday blowout, the disabled and vulnerable are canceling their plans indefinitely. 

What was supposed to be a big Christmas day family meal at a restaurant with my family became seeing only my close family in small groups. Although I know that my loved ones are being safe, the same cannot be said for the general public. I spent Christmas day with just my husband and dog. While I’m sad, I’m honestly relieved that I will be staying safe. 

While there is a fear from nondisabled people that the U.K. will go back into lockdown, there has been no talk of action about how the government will protect disabled people and people who are most likely to get COVID. Instead, the focus has been on protecting businesses, with a £1.5 billion fund announced for hospitality firms hit by COVID-19 by Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The last time we had a surge so high, disabled people were protected. Shielding in place meant that we had priority slots for food deliveries, and medicines were delivered to our doors. We also attended all of our classes online and could work from home.

While schools have finished for the holidays at the moment, they were still being taught in person before. Working from home was reinstated at the beginning of December, however, many low-income disabled people do not have the option to work from home and we no longer have the protection of the furlough scheme. 

Many people are having to make the difficult choice between working to bring in an income and prioritizing their health.

We're being told to protect ourselves as much as possible but those are hollow words when there's no action to back them up.

This is why it’s so difficult to see so many people being upset and angry that the U.K. might go back into lockdown: For many vulnerable people, lockdown is the safest option. 

There are really two stories to what it’s like in the U.K. right now. Many people are trying to cling to a semblance of “normal life,” but for disabled and vulnerable people, the world changed forever in March 2020 and we cannot see it becoming much safer any time soon.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

1 Source
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  1. Munro C. Covid-19: 40% of patients with weakened immune system mount lower response to vaccines. BMJ. 2021;374. doi:10.1136/bmj.n2098

By Rachel Charlton-Dailey
Rachel Charlton-Dailey (she/they) is a health and disability journalist. They serve as editor-in-chief of The Unwritten, a platform for the stories of disabled people. Their work features in publications such as Healthline, Huffpost, Metro UK, The Guardian, and Business Insider.