Don’t worry, I’m not about to burst into song. But there will be a few of us who’ve spent the last ten weeks staring at the four walls immediately surrounding us, who will feel a tingling excitement today at the prospect of going outdoors. As you know, from reading this blog, I don’t fall into that category because I’ve been able to venture out each day anyway. Self-isolation rather than shielding was the advice I willingly accepted from my rheumatologist. But there is a hint of greater freedom in the air, but still – rightly – much caution.
My sense last week, when a further easing of the lockdown was announced, was that people who’d received shielding letters felt in danger of being forgotten. We merited only the briefest of mentions in that day’s press conference, and I think many of us – myself included – were pleased when charities, including Versus Arthritis, got together to write to those in power and ask for something better. Whether that prompted the latest change in government advice we’ll probably never know, but I hope it heralds a continuing acknowledgement that while we are one block of people because we all received the same letter, we’re all individuals when it comes to the various challenges we face and the various reasons for our higher levels of vulnerability to the coronavirus.
I took issue – only gently, I promise – with a man who commented on my piece in the Daily Telegraph a couple of weeks ago (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/rest-britain-gets-moving-condemned-lockdown/). I posed a number of questions that I felt those of us shielding/self-isolating were seeking answers to, but he described those as ‘beside the point’ because of the advice I’d received. That, to me, implied that the status of those of us in this situation had to be regarded as unchanging, whereas my hope has always been that the more the scientists/medics discover about the way this virus behaves, especially in the context of people regarded as ‘high risk’, the more we can respond accordingly and in a way that is more tailored to the individual. On the Versus Arthritis website, for example, I find this regularly updated guidance (https://www.versusarthritis.org/covid-19-updates/covid-19-assessing-your-risk/) really useful.
On the idea of tailoring the advice I thought this was encouraging too – a comment that appeared on the BBC News website yesterday. One of the scientists advising the government, Professor Peter Openshaw, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that we are learning more about the virus: “I think we’re going to be able to fine-tune the advice now and actually reassure some people we feared might be susceptible, that in fact they’re not as vulnerable as we thought.” Here’s the complete piece: (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-52862440).
Going forward I have one more question to pose, in addition to those that I referred to earlier. And, among us shielders/self-isolators I know I’m not alone in wondering this. We’re told that the reason for the change of advice is that the average chance of catching the virus has fallen from 40-1 to 1000-1. Good news for all of us, of course. But I struggle to translate those kinds of odds and statistics into the practicalities of what happens when I walk out of my front door. A prize for the first person who eases that particular anxiety.