Since the start of the pandemic, Clare Dawson has paid close attention to government announcements about new coronavirus restrictions, to see if it was safe enough for her to leave her parents’ home in Surrey, England.
On Monday, she was discouraged. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that people in England who test positive for the virus will soon no longer be required to self-isolate and has decided to end most free testing. Ms Dawson braced herself for more isolation, anxiety and loneliness.
“If there was someone walking the streets that you knew could kill you, would you come out?” said Ms Dawson, who has a chronic lung condition that puts her at increased risk of severe Covid-19.
The government has said it is ending the rest of the virus restrictions to help the country transition to more of an approach to live with the virus. But some critics say the move is premature and overlooks those most clinically vulnerable, especially the hundreds of thousands of immunocompromised people. In the United States, many immunocompromised and high-risk people have also felt left behind by the wave of restrictions being lifted.
“What happened yesterday is very concerning for the people we work with,” said Gemma Peters, chief executive of Blood Cancer UK, a charity that funds blood cancer research.
After the announcement, the charity’s hotline was inundated with calls from cancer patients asking how they should behave under the new rules and whether it was safe for them to go out in public.
“We can’t answer every call,” Ms Peters said. “People use language like ‘society doesn’t care about my death’, and I think that’s the feeling – that they’re kind of collateral damage.”
The UK government has said free testing will still be available for vulnerable people, but has acknowledged that lifting remaining legal restrictions will most likely lead to an increase in cases.
“Keep free testing for vulnerable people? It’s too late,” said Trishna Bharadia, 42, who has multiple sclerosis and has been quarantined at her home in Buckinghamshire, England, for two years. “The aim should be to prevent vulnerable people from catching Covid in the first place.”
Ceinwen Giles, 47, who developed an immune deficiency after her cancer treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, said she had only allowed people to see her for the past two years if they had d first tested negative for coronavirus.
“If I have friends who aren’t clinically vulnerable and don’t have tests,” she asked, “will I be able to see them?”
On Tuesday, Scotland also decided to roll back the latest legal requirements for coronavirus restrictions. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, announced plans to lift mask mandates in March and said the country’s Covid certification scheme, which has been put in place for those attending large events, will end this this month.
On Monday, the UK government also withdrew guidance in England for staff and pupils at most schools and nurseries to test themselves twice a week, even if they don’t have symptoms. Infected children will also no longer be legally required to self-isolate.
Ms Giles says the fact that her 12-year-old daughter will now be sitting among potentially infected children has only increased her anxiety levels.
In England and Wales, just 16.8% of people who died of Covid from October to December last year did not have a pre-existing health condition, according to the British government.
“If everyone had to live with Covid like we live with Covid, they wouldn’t have changed the rules,” said Ms Dawson, who says she hasn’t been able to hug her godchildren for two years. “It looks like they’ve decided that our lives and freedom aren’t as important as other people’s.”
Megan Specia contributed report.