1 in 1700 people are estimated to have coronavirus now, that’s down from 1 in 500 four weeks ago. Those are the figures from the Office for National Statistics upon which the latest government shielding advice in England is based. That’s the advice which says that in July those of us shielding and self-isolating can begin to ease the restrictive lifestyles we’ve been leading, and then in August we can dispense with those restrictions altogether. Up to a point. We should still follow social distancing guidelines and wash our hands regularly, but we can – we’re told – return to our workplaces as long as they are COVID secure.
This is all quite a lot to take in, and I’ve been trying to break it down as best I can. Firstly, that 1 in 1700 figure. In percentage terms, that’s a chance of just under 0.06%. And remember, it’s a chance of being in the presence of someone with coronavirus, not of actually catching it. If that person is respecting social distancing guidelines and wearing a face mask, the chances of catching it are still – we’re told – pretty small. The BBC website had this take on the accuracy and reliability of those figures, saying this: “the ONS figures are thought to give a good picture of the proportion of people infected with the virus in the community – but they do not include infections in hospitals and care homes. However, there are wide margins of error around the figures because they are based on small numbers of people testing positive.” Here are the ONS figures in greater detail: ons.gov.uk/…fectionsurveypilot/12june2020.
So what about other risks we take in everyday life? How does this 1 in 1700 figure compare? This may provide some answers https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/05/13/analysis-danger-coronavirus-compares-risks-everyday-life/ but bear in mind it was written a month ago. The figures quoted in the block graph are from the ONS, it says, but others are attributed to a variety of other organisations and experts. Food for thought, certainly, and maybe helpful as we all try to arrive at some difficult decisions over the easing of lockdown.
Two themes recur. One is that tendency for those of us shielding and self-isolating to be referred to as if we’re all in near identical situations – the 2.2 million of us for whom a photograph of someone pressed up against a window pane, staring out forlornly, will apparently suffice in telling our stories. I thought we’d got past that particular hurdle a few weeks ago, but it seems to have reappeared. The lesson I’ve learned there is talk to doctors, nurses, consultants, relevant charitable organisations, and get that more bespoke advice if at all possible. The second theme is about how we’ll feel when we take those tentative steps forward. Pretty nervous, I’m guessing. I’ve not been into the workplace since March, nor on a bus or a tube train, so the commute and that first working day back at base – when it comes – will be daunting.
Coming out of lockdown for those of us deemed at high risk was always going to be hard. Once we’d got used to the idea of shielding and self-isolating – deeply unsettling though those concepts were – many of us got on with it because we could see how risky it would be to do anything else. To an extent the decisions were made for us. Now, we’re having to chart our own course, based on what we’ve learned in the last three months, and that’s unnerving. As a self-isolator rather than a shielder, I’ve already eased things to the extent that my partner and I have formed a weekend ‘social bubble’. I was unsure, weighed up the risks, and said yes. In a moment of wild abandon yesterday, I even booked a COVID-secure haircut.
But some of us don’t feel we can do much – or even any – of that. Conversations with people via Versus Arthritis confirm the deep anxieties that continue to exist. All I would say about the much mentioned ‘new normal’ is that it still has to allow for the fact that some people, for perfectly justifiable reasons, won’t feel able to follow the latest advice, and I hope the system is sufficiently flexible to look after them.