It is a bright, sunny morning and I am out for another training run. I reach a narrow point in the road and ahead of me, I can see three people walking side-by-side, blocking the path ahead. None are wearing a mask. I have three options: Turn around, head straight for them in the hope they will disperse or look for somewhere to take cover.
Fortunately, I see a gap in a hedge just ahead, so I decide on option three: I stop and jump through the opening onto a nearby field. As someone living with blood cancer and currently receiving treatment, keeping a safe distance is not just about ‘social distancing’, it is about life and death. As the people pass, they give me a strange look. I doubt it even occurs to them that over two million people in this country are classed as “clinically extremely vulnerable”.
When Boris Johnston announced that all Covid restrictions would be lifted on July 19, I doubt it occurred to him either. He never once mentioned the 500,000 people in Britain who are immunocompromised, of which 230,000 are living with blood cancer. Sadly, I was not surprised.
Ever since the Covid briefings began, people with blood cancer have rarely, if ever, been mentioned.
All along the Covid crisis, the Government has been sending mixed messages, backtracking, and creating confusion about what people should do to protect themselves and others.
Recently, speaking on the Lorraine Show, Nicola Mendelsohn, the vice President of Facebook who is also living with blood cancer, called us the “forgotten victims” of Covid. We, more than most, want the Government to take the lead in keeping people safe and lifting restrictions gradually, but only when it is safe to do so. By putting the responsibility on individuals, he is making it harder in the long-term for us all to get our life back. Worse still, he has risked the lives of thousands of clinically extremely vulnerable people. We need to address, and counteract the harmful effects of Monday’s
message by addressing the following:
People with blood cancer and vaccines: The vaccine rollout has been one of the few success stories and I was happy to receive my second vaccination. However, following a test I learned that I had no antibodies against Covid. Early evidence has shown that the vaccines are not as effective for immunocompromised people, but many are unaware of this. Making sure they’re vaccinated remains vital, but the lack of clear communications has put their lives needlessly at risk. For that reason, we urgently need the Government and NHS to write to all immunocompromised people to
inform them of this, so they understand their level of risk.
Mask Wearing: By giving a blank cheque for people to stop wearing masks, Boris Johnson has failed in his duty to protect vulnerable people. A simple thing everyone can do to protect people with blood cancer is keep wearing a mask and keep your distance from people you do not know, as there is no way of knowing if the person next to you has a compromised immune system. We urgently need the Government to communicate the need to protect people with blood cancer by wearing a mask.
Financial Support: Many people with blood cancer continue to shield, and we desperately want life to get back to normal as soon as possible. However, the removal of restrictions will mean many will be pressured to return to workplaces that are not Covid-safe. Therefore, while the infection rate is high, we need the Government to financially support people with blood cancer who cannot work from home, especially those who work in busy workplaces.
I support a return to normal life as soon as possible, but it must be based on a gradual and careful removal of restrictions based on evidence, a policy which seems to have been discarded.
As a supporter of Blood Cancer UK, normal life for me will be helping raise much needed funding by running at the Leeds 10K (with NHS staff at the hospital where I have my treatment, Leeds St James’s hospital), followed by the Great North Run the following week.
Potentially, it will be one of the most inspirational weeks of my life. But the “Freedom Day” announcement shatters confidence that it will be safe to take part. The same argument applies to other areas of life. We need to be confident that the virus is under control, that the risks for immunocompromised people have been considered.
People need to be confident that they are not risking their lives in public transport or visiting a restaurant. Older people need to be confident that relatives can safely visit them. Parents need to be confident that their children will not contract Covid at school.
The message from Boris Johnson was: “If not now, then when?”, is the wrong question to ask. It should be: “Why not later?” By removing the restrictions overnight, he has increased the chances of further restrictions having to be reimposed in the future. Nobody wants this. In the meantime, I will continue to train in the hope that by September, common sense and clear guidance will prevail.
David Lauder is 63 years old and lives in York.
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