'Not Freedom Day for us' - Shielders reveal July 19 fears

Zoe Rowntree and Samantha Beckwith

Zoe Rowntree and Samantha Beckwith have spoken about their ongoing concerns facing those clinically vulnerable around July 19's easing of restrictions. - Credit: Zoe Rowntree/Samantha Beckwith

Vulnerable people in Norfolk and Waveney say they are becoming more anxious about daily life at the "mercy" of other's choices if the final Covid-19 measures are scrapped on July 19.

On Monday, the prime minister set out the changes that could come into effect, including wearing face masks and practicing social distancing becoming personal choice rather than the rules, which has been met with concerns from some with health conditions at a time of rising daily cases.

In Norfolk, there were more than 40,000 people who received a shielding letter until it was no longer required last August.

The official announcement will be made next week but for those who have spent the pandemic taking extra precautions due to theirs or their loved ones health, they feel many will turn back to shielding.

The family with an extremely vulnerable child

Zoe Rowntree has spoken of how difficult it is to go back to normal life despite lockdown easing measures.

Zoe Rowntree has spoken of how difficult it is to go back to normal life despite lockdown easing measures. - Credit: Zoe Rowntree

Zoe Rowntree, from Dereham, has continued to shield with her husband Keith and their two sons, aged 17 and 12.

Her youngest son has a medical condition that affects his immune system and due to his age is not yet eligible for the vaccine, while the rest of his family have received both doses.

She said removing all of the restrictions at once was a concern, having experienced verbal abuse when asking for people to leave space even when social distancing was in place.

Mrs Rowntree said; "It's definitely not freedom day for us, if anything we're losing more.

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"We're going to have medical appointments knowing everyone else is not taking precautions, raising the risk. The vaccination isn't 100pc guaranteed against some of the current strains going around.

"Covid is a whole different ball game to dealing with normal every day viruses you can't avoid.

Zoe Rowntree says despite shielding being over many do not feel safe to go back to normal.

Zoe Rowntree says despite shielding being over many do not feel safe to go back to normal. - Credit: Zoe Rowntree

"Places are going to be busy more than they usually are as people aren't holidaying abroad and people who do not have clinically vulnerable people in the home want to get out."

She said she understood the prime minister's message to live with Covid-19 but did not feel it was the right time with growing cases and preventative measures being taken away at the same time.

She added: "I can see vulnerable people getting to the point of turning back to full shielding. 

"You're at the mercy of everybody else and their choices or you stay in, there is no in between."

The shop worker who returned but now feels unsafe

Samantha and Lucy Beckwith

Sisters Samantha and Lucy Beckwith shielded for more than a year, with Samantha returning to work and college. She has concerns about the possible easing of measures. - Credit: Samantha Beckwith

Samantha Beckwith, 24, and her sister Lucy were shielding at their home in Hingham due to having cystinosis, a rare genetic condition.

After 14 months of only leaving the house for walks with her family, returning to working in retail and college was an initial challenge but was made easier by restrictions and choices made by her college and employer. 

Graduating this week, Miss Beckwith said: "I'm the only one going to work. Going back into shops was strange for my parents.

"We hadn't seen anyone in ages and we were trying to get used to all the rules, and the one way systems which everyone else had a year to get used to.

"The only reason I was feeling so safe working in the shop is because there was social distancing and everyone was wearing masks.

"If you do not know of a disabled or vulnerable person you do not think about it. For a lot of vulnerable people you're thinking 'we're in a bit of danger'."

She said opening things up was a good step for businesses but due to their age or allergies not all vulnerable people had been vaccinated.

Lucy and Samantha Beckwith, from Hingham, have shielded with their family.

Lucy and Samantha Beckwith, from Hingham, have shielded with their family. - Credit: Samantha Beckwith

The retiree who has not been to a shop since March 2020

Doreen Howlett, from Diss, has not set foot in a shop since last March and takes precautions to wear masks while out on walks.

Mrs Howlett said she was taken aback when she received a letter at the beginning of the first lockdown classing her as extremely clinical vulnerable due to her asthma and COPD. 

She continues to use online grocery shopping and has driven out to take part in walks, but stays entertained by knitting and reading.

She said: "I cannot see any need to put myself into situations where I could be at risk. 

"I'm just scared of the consequences. I do not feel ready to go out and eat in crowded places or do anything in crowded places."

She has been encouraged to go out but said it would not be until new coronavirus case rates fall significantly and stay down before she would consider it.

She said: "They say I've turned into a recluse and I suppose I have to an extent, I do not feel it's affected my mental health, I'm able to keep myself occupied."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a clenched fist as he campaigns on behalf of Conservative Party c

Prime minister Boris Johnson. - Credit: PA

Analysis - concerns should not be brushed aside

The prime minister said this week we must all learn to live with Covid-19 and from those who have spoken about their experiences they completely agree - but now is not the right time for them.

At this time, those who once shielded or continue to shield are concerned such moves are being taken when there are such increases nationally in daily coronavirus cases and the removal of social distancing and wearing masks is too much of a personal risk.

It becomes a personal choice and a daily dilemma for many who feel at the mercy of others' choices and it may lead many to retreat rather than head out into society.

Hospitalisations remain low in comparison, as does the infection rate in Norfolk, but as we have seen over the last 18 months, things can change and concerns should not be brushed aside.

The removal of rules will show the true effectiveness of living our lives in some sort of normality but we must continue to respect what people are comfortable.