"We've been abandoned" - clinically vulnerable people hit back at the end of self-isolation rules

An organ transplant patient in Penwortham, and a Blackpool woman with only 9% kidney function describe feeling frightened and more at-risk as covid restrictions ease

By Lucinda Herbert
Wednesday, 23rd February 2022, 11:43 am

Gill Kaczmarczyk hasn’t been in a shop since March 13, 2020.

The 55-year-old learning consultant had a kidney transplant in 2011, and is at high-risk of becoming severely ill if she catches Covid.

Gill lives with her husband Steve, 58, and her two daughters Alyssia, 29, and Grace, 27, in Penwortham, and can only meet people from other households if they are outdoors.

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Gill and Jen celebrated their 10 year organ transplant anniversary in 2021

She said: “I feel like we’ve been abandoned and forgotten about. The announcement really makes me feel more anxious and vulnerable and I don’t know what we will do going forward.”

Gill has to take a high dose of immunosuppressants so that her body doesn’t reject the kidney, which was donated by her twin sister, Jen Heaton, ten years ago.

The medication means her body struggles to fight infection.

She has had four Covid vaccines, but blood tests showed that she didn’t develop any antibodies.

On Monday 21 February, Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the government’s ‘living with Covid’ strategy, which brings an end to all Covid legal restrictions.

Gill felt ‘frustrated and annoyed’ by the news.

At times she’s felt isolated and alone - but she has been determined to remain positive.

“Being sad won’t make my situation any better and it’s tough enough.”

She wanted to keep busy and so she started a petition.

The campaign calls for better support for the 500,000 immunocompromised people in the UK.

People including some cancer patients, people on high dose corticosteroids for lupus, vasculitis, colitis, multiple sclerosis, and all solid organ transplant patients, are all at high risk of being severely ill if they catch covid.

She wants to see a dedicated government lead to coordinate support for the immunocompromised, and also said there needs to be better employment-related support.

The drive to end mass working from home, at the same time as scrapping free lateral flow tests and removing the £500 sick pay, presents increased risk for this group.

From February 24, the government will remove the legal requirements to self-isolate following a positive Covid test, although guidance will remain encouraging people to do so. Self-isolation payments will also end from this date.

“There’s not enough support to say that if you are vulnerable you can still work from home, and none of the guidance for us has been clear all along. I worry that people will be forced to choose between their health or their livelihood.”

From April 1, the government will end free asymptomatic and symptomatic testing. Free lateral flow tests for symptomatic older people and the most vulnerable groups will still be provided.

“I feel there will be more people who will be likely to catch the virus and pass it around. Whereas before they would have self-isolated if they test positive, now it’s less likely to be the case. They’ll get a sniffle and just carry on, not bother with a test - not because they don’t care but because they aren’t available to them."

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Bernie Stell would have looked forward to a garden centre visit on her March birthday, but now she is ‘frightened to death’ of going out.

Even going at the quietest time of day would put her at too much risk of catching Covid. So the 62-year-old woman, on Holmfield Road, will celebrate at home for the third year in a row.

Mrs Stell has only got one kidney. It functions at 9%, and doctors have warned her that the virus would kill her.

So the news that England is going ‘back to normal’ has deeply frustrated the Stell household.

They have all been shielding since March 2020, to protect Bernie.

Daughter, Marie,said: “We’re not saying we want this to carry on forever but to completely pull the rug from everyone is just diabolical. It just shows utter contempt for vulnerable people.”

41-year-old Marie set up an inclusive drama group in 2016, called North Shore All Players. Even as restrictions loosened and clubs were encouraged to reopen, she has remained closed to protect her mum.

But she misses her old life. “We all used to go out for meals, to the cinema and drama class. We’ve lost all that.”

Marie feels like a lot of people see it as out of sight out of mind. She even said that her family has received verbal abuse for wearing masks in the street.

“People who don’t have a vulnerable family member at home, or someone they know, just think it’s not their problem.”

She fears that an end to self-isolation and free testing will lead more people to take risks and spread the virus.

“They think it’s just a bit of a cold so they keep going out, but they don’t stop to think it’s serious for some people.”

Marie has had three doses of vaccine, and all members of her family are also fully vaccinated.

She worries about letting anyone in the house, including workmen and carers. “If they’ve been in other people’s houses, and those people haven’t been testing then it means the staff are going to be more exposed."

But the business community has welcomed the news (Tim Gavell writes).

Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said: “Our local business community has broadly welcomed the Prime Minsters announcement that sees the start of pre-pandemic trading condition resume.

“However, for many firms this passage will not be without its challenges and Government should not be in the business of passing public health decisions on to the business community. experts. Businesses are concerned about how the Government will respond to further variants and any future pandemic.

“The Government needs to provide clarity on the type of support which would be put in place if new guidance or mandatory restrictions are introduced as businesses will only be able to ‘live with covid’ if they have the confidence that plans are in place for any future outbreaks. Any doubts in this matter will inhibit investment.

“Our Members believe that the continuation of free access to testing is vital to managing workplace sickness and maintaining consumer confidence. If the government is to remove this, companies must still be able to access tests on a cost-effective basis.”

And the Lancashire headquartered Federation of Small Businesses said the Government’s said free testing should continue.

National chairman Mike Cherry said: “It’s important access to testing is still maintained for when people feel ill, and the infrastructure surrounding it should not be immediately discarded, so that it can be deployed when new variants appear. Government should also be assessing the effectiveness of its existing Covid business support schemes ensuring that, if needed in the future, they are sufficient, widespread and quickly distributed.”