Shielding People Like Me Can’t Just ‘Go Back To Normal’ After Lockdown, Prime Minister

Boris Johnson has announced the end of more lockdown restrictions. But after being told for months that only inside was safe, I’m frightened about leaving my house.

As the Prime Minister talked on Friday about more people returning to workplaces from August, and potentially social distancing coming to an end in November, this couldn’t feel further away from how I and many others are feeling.

I’m an elite disability gymnast with 22 British titles. I also have severe Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. As a result of my condition, I have frequent life-threatening allergic reactions (known as anaphylaxis) that affect every part of my life, from what I eat to who I can interact with. I am even at risk of anaphylaxis from strong smells such as perfumes and air fresheners.

Above all, my conditions mean I’m immunocompromised. And it means that, right now, if I caught coronavirus, it’s highly likely I would not survive.

I am also autistic, which has made everything changing as a result of coronavirus harder to handle. My usual calming techniques such as going for a walk are no longer accessible to me as I have to shield. I’m having to find new ways to manage my autistic meltdowns in a world that is also having a bit of a meltdown of its own.

At the start of this crisis, I saw everyone how was helping each other out and doing what they could for people shielding, but now everything’s ’going back to normal’, as non-disabled people are starting to get a bit of normality, I’ve noticed the offers of help are reducing.

“I feel ignored and less listened to, like we’re less important members of society.”

But we’re still shielding. Nothing’s changed for us. And I think we are starting to be forgotten.

The government’s going to take all the help away when shielding ends on 1 August, which is really unsafe, it’s putting disabled people’s lives at risk. But I feel ignored and less listened to, like we’re less important members of society and we can’t contribute much, which was already there before but this has really emphasised it.

Official figures show almost two thirds of people who have died from Covid-19 were disabled, so it’s no surprise that research by the disability equality charity Scope this week found only 5% of disabled people feel safe about shielding being paused. And two thirds of disabled people think the government’s plans for easing lockdown did not take their needs into consideration.

Scope, backed by dozens of other disability charities and campaigners, this week appealed directly to Boris Johnson to stop forgetting disabled people. We won’t be forgotten any longer. This government needs to be doing much more to protect disabled people’s rights and needs at every turn – not just through the pandemic but beyond.

I’d like to think everything will be more accessible after this because the whole population has experienced being stuck inside, which so many disabled people already knew all too well.

But if anything, what I’ve seen is that society will be even less accessible because they’re putting up new walls. I saw on our local news they were spraying down a train, and the chemicals were cinnamon-scented. I’m really allergic to cinnamon and even the smell of it makes me really ill, so it doesn’t look like I’ll be using my public transport.

“I won’t be going out when shielding ends, I’m too anxious. I don’t see the difference between the last day in July, and the first day in August when shielding ends.”

It’s not an environment I can control at all. So, I’ll have to wear a mask to avoid the virus and a mask to avoid the scent triggers that could potentially be life-threatening.

Until I go out I don’t really know what barriers I’m going to face – and that’s anxiety-provoking. I am frightened about leaving my house after being told for months that only inside was safe.

To then get the go-ahead to leave when there are still so many cases and no real progress with testing or a vaccine? I don’t think they quite appreciate the magnitude of the situation. Or they do, and they’re just ignoring it.

So I won’t be going out when shielding ends, I’m too anxious. I don’t see the difference between the last day in July, and the first day in August when shielding ends.

I don’t see how it’s suddenly going to be safe for people like me.

Natasha Coates is an elite disability gymnast, living with mast cell activation syndrome and autism. For information on Scope’s call for the prime minister not to forget disability equality in the Government’s recovery plan, click here