By Sarah Reilly, disability rights advocate and researcher. She is co-founder and Director of the Women’s Research Centre
Last year we had Freedom Day. This month we’ve been told that we need to learn to live with Covid. While it is welcome news that cases, hospitalisations, and deaths are declining, the UK Government again appears to have prematurely declared the end of the pandemic.
Last week, Boris Johnson announced that the remaining Covid measures in England would be removed by the end of March. He also confirmed that lateral flows will no longer be available free of charge – apart from some exceptions which will apparently be set out in full next month. To top it off, there is no longer a legal obligation to self-isolate if you test positive. The fact that all Covid measures and protections will be gone from April 1 makes you wonder who the true fools are.
At a recent press conference, the Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that we need to begin living with Covid like we do with other infectious diseases. However, as various scientists and the World Health Organisation have clearly set out, Covid is not like flu. So where does this leave those of us who have shielded throughout the pandemic? Terrified and angry, is my answer, and I am not alone in thinking that.
I have written previously about how lifting restrictions (perhaps measures might be a better word) would leave disabled people and those with long term health conditions more vulnerable to the virus. The Government’s official announcement this week states that the “British public made extraordinary sacrifices” during the lockdowns and with other measures in order to save lives and protect the NHS, and that these actions “interfered with people’s lives and livelihoods”. But the question remains: are the ‘vulnerable’ going to be sacrificed for the rest of the population to not be inconvenienced any longer?
The Queen has now got Covid. That the most protected pensioner in the UK has succumbed to the virus shows how invasive it is. However, we are told not to worry and that she is soldiering on and continuing to work through it, and so is “setting an example to us all”. If a 95-year-old woman can do it, that means anyone can, right? Never mind the fact that she has a full household of staff to take care of her and assist in every way. The Government have also decided to withdraw the £500 self-isolation support payment for those on low incomes in England. This will disproportionately impact those already struggling due to the massive hike in household bills.
These changes appear to be a response to the cost of Covid measures, such as free testing and sick pay. It should not surprise us that these decisions come from the same party who introduced austerity over the past decade. The current Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, was behind the decision to scrap free Covid tests as well as many other measures. He has followed the same path as his predecessor George Osborne, who announced sweeping cuts of to the main disability benefit in his 2010 Budget. Once again disabled people and those with long term health conditions will suffer due to the financial and ideological decisions of Government.
Now, more than ever, the most vulnerable in society need your help. Nobody wants a return to normality more than us. Wear a mask if you are in crowded indoor spaces, and especially if you are visiting someone with an underlying condition. Flow before you go (or for as long as they are free). Your personal responsibility may be our only way to ‘live with Covid’.