Jingoistic to the very end and harking back to an empire of years gone by, we finally landed here. Dubbed ‘Freedom Day’, July 19th is when all remaining Covid-19 restrictions will be lifted, including mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing. Set ablaze in fury, the Twittersphere was in uproar. In the aftermath, those who happen to be clinically vulnerable were tweeting that they had been advised to continue shielding regardless.

From the beginning,  shielders have been treated as little more than a burden. News that final lockdown measures are to be lifted in just eleven days were met with fear and worry that a two-tier society awaits.

Taking responsibility for your health and doing risk assessment when vital support has been taken will become a herculean task for many. And with sick pay being minimal, it’s enough to force the most vulnerable to have to choose between work or their health — a reckless outcome.

Adding to this, the impact of ‘Long Covid’ is still being studied. And we now understand that health in a time of crisis is largely a collective project, with the NHS’ vaccine rollout serving as a prime example.

To mask up or not to mask up?

Shona Louise, 23, is a freelance writer and photographer. In the course of the pandemic, she has also opened up an Etsy shop to sell crocheted accessories such as keyrings and plushies. Shona also has Marfan syndrome, a rare condition that affects her heart. Following the updated guidance in February, she found herself having to shield.

Describing the recent announcement as ‘incredibly reckless’, she said:

‘I do understand the need to try and get back to normal, but opening everything all at once whilst removing the safety measures of social distancing and mask-wearing is a recipe for disaster’.

Adding that:

‘For most people, mask-wearing is not disruptive or distressing, so why not just continue it? Better to be safe than sorry’.

Karl Knights is a writer who is Autistic. He also has ADHD and Cerebral Palsy and has shielded himself since late February of last year. Describing July 19th as ‘terrifying’, he said:

‘It feels like the entire society has resigned itself to more death, more misery, more pain. Cases are rising dramatically, and at the end of the day, lifting all restrictions so suddenly will get people killed. Disabled people account for 6 in 10 Covid deaths in the UK, a statistic that I think about every day’.

He added:

‘I can’t help but think about whether the rest of my life is going to be like this; stuck inside because the general public and people in power can’t listen to scientific advice?’

SAGE advice has been markedly different on lifting restrictions. The government has been warned of the threat of ‘super spreader‘ events.

A two-tiered society

Is it any wonder that those who are disabled and/or shielding have lost confidence? An article by the BBC confirms this. Those with disabilities who are unable to practice the recommended safety measures — such as mask-wearing — feel helpless.

There is a catch-22; those shielding will continue to do so regardless. The world outside remains a restrictive landmine for them. It is no secret that those with disabilities have been one of the hardest-hit groups in this pandemic, having suffered declining mental and physical health.

‘Freedom Day’ will create a two-tiered society.

Those shielding will largely remain confined and forgotten. The rest will embrace their newfound freedom to the maximum. Meanwhile, life-threatening Covid variants that are potentially vaccine-resistant will continue to run rampant amongst us.

It has been suggested that cases could swell to 100,000+ daily, making this one of the worst Covid summers. With predictions of 2 million people falling sick and 10 million isolating, one wonders what the government is thinking of and whether it will come to deeply regret this latest Covid policy move.

Bifurcating society is not the answer, Mr Johnson.

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