The government’s rules for the lockdown identified groups of “clinically vulnerable” people who should take precautions to minimise contact with anyone outside their household. The rules included those aged 70 or over regardless of medical conditions. Another group identified as “clinically extremely vulnerable” were told to self-isolate.
As the weeks roll on, concerns are being raised about how these groups will cope with the increasing loneliness. Communities need to ensure that no one is forgotten.
With library facilities across the county closed, around 70 staff from the library service team were co-opted to support Northamptonshire County Council’s Community Resilience Service, calling vulnerable people for wellness checks.
The NHS sent letters to those identified as clinically vulnerable due to pre-existing health conditions or immune-compromised due to organ transplants or active cancer treatment. Those who received letters were advised to register with the government for extra support, such as grocery deliveries.
Approximately 16,500 people in Northamptonshire registered with the government as vulnerable to Covid-19 and have been told to shield at home, and not leave their home under any circumstances or have face-to-face contact.
Library staff based in Oundle have been making courtesy calls to check if people need support with food, prescription medicine deliveries, or just someone to talk to regularly to help them interact whilst socially distancing.
The staff then work with the Community Resilience Service to ensure that people’s requirements are matched to the teams managing the deliveries through local community groups and volunteers.
One Oundle resident who was contacted by the county council’s Community Resilience Hub was Mel Lee. She was advised by her GP that she was extremely vulnerable due to a pre-existing lung condition and needed to shield herself.
She registered with the government as a vulnerable person, and along with 2.5 million people, was identified as clinically vulnerable. She has been told to self-isolate for twelve weeks.
Major supermarkets have contacted the people on the government list and arranged free priority delivery for online orders. “After I registered with the government, I got an email about supermarket deliveries, and I was allocated Asda. They deliver my shopping once a fortnight at protected delivery times. It’s always the same time,” she said.
Ms Lee usually works as the befriending coordinator for Volunteer Action, but now she is receiving their help to help pick up her medication. Her neighbour helps take care of her garden for her.
One of her sons is a computing graduate, so he has made sure she is set up with all the networking apps. Like many people these days she meets her family for regular meetings on Zoom and Facebook.
As a member of the Knit and Natter group responsible for yarn bomb displays around town, most everyone will have seen her knitting creations over the years. She has put her knitting to use now making outfits for the new babies in her extended family.
When the lockdown ends, Ms Lee said she will continue to take precautions and will wear a mask. “If I get the virus, because my lungs don’t work at full capacity, it will be a lot worse.”
Sheila Johnson is also self-isolating because of an existing condition, and she worries about what would happen if she had a medical emergency. She admits that the lockdown is a bit frightening and not knowing how long it will last is “rather depressing”.
“It’s a bit frustrating because there is so much uncertainty,” she said. Community Action, Volunteer Action and the church, as well as friends are all keeping in touch and helping her. “The good thing is that people are being very kind.”
Rita and Keith Johnson are not on a clinically vulnerable list, but as over-70s, they are isolating at home. In lockdown they do not miss the holidays and eating out, “except perhaps the closure of the hairdressers”, but they do miss their friends and family. Neighbours and local volunteers have stepped in to offer support and run errands. “We count ourselves extremely fortunate to receive the help that we have been given.”
Despite the risks and disruption, Ms Lee has seen a positive side to the lockdown. “The beaches and the water has improved. The air pollution is reduced. There’re a lot more little birds around. So there’s a lot of good going on.”