How has the pandemic affected the working, social and political life for people with increased vulnerability to Covid-19 because of disabilities or long term health conditions? Our Covid-19 Community Reporter, Rosy Bremer talks to local resident Stephanie Hunter – who has asthma and is immunosuppressed – about her experience of the pandemic.
Interview transcribed by Peta Sampson.
Rosy: Can you tell me why you were required to shield and whether you were expecting to shield?
Stephanie: I got my letter to shield on 1st April. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get one, as I’ve got asthma and I’m immunosuppressed so if I’d had just one or the other I don’t think I would have been told to shield, as I understand it. I think originally the Government said ‘If you’re going to get a letter it’s going to be between the 23rd and 29th March’. So, when those dates came and went I thought, OK, maybe I’m not going to get a letter, that’s fine.
I was told I was able to work from home from that point anyway and then I did get the letter. So that was a bit of a shock because having gone past that point where I thought I wasn’t going to get one and then getting one, it was a shock. I thought I am very high risk because of the medication I am on and because of the asthma, but I didn’t necessarily want a letter. I think I had accepted that I wasn’t going to get one and I thought I’d just do what everyone else is doing, and do social distancing.
Then a letter arrived for me and it was my boyfriend who brought it in. I just knew what it was.
My boyfriend said, ‘This has come for you. It’s from the NHS,’ and I said, ‘Yep, I know what that is.’
There was that initial panic of what do we do? Until you get the letter we’re going about as normal I guess.
How did you arrange the practicalities of shielding?
I was able to work from home, but to begin with my boyfriend wasn’t able to work from home so he was still out and about. Every time he came in he was quite anxious about bringing anything home.
The shielding letter said you cannot leave the house, anyone you live with, try to keep a distance inside your home. We’ve got a one bedroom flat; we were in a two bedroom flat, but it felt too big so we moved somewhere smaller. Then we were told to try and stay apart from each other in a very small space. It’s just not feasible when there are two of you in a one bedroom flat. One bedroom, one bathroom, a kitchen/living room, it’s just not possible. We’d be trying to maintain a distance from each other at home and one of us would accidentally forget and walk too close and the other one would be jumping out of the way as we just didn’t know what we were dealing with.
Do you have any access to an outdoor space?
We don’t have a garden and that was another thing in the letter. Although I was devastated to get this letter, even at the time it really made me laugh because it was saying: If you don’t have a garden, sit on your front step. I thought well, I don’t have a front step because I’ve got a communal hallway. The other option was to place a chair in front of a window and look at the view. But we’re on a main road, I don’t have a view.
There were times when we were both getting a bit ‘cabin-fevery’, I think. There was a point when I saw a photo of Southsea seafront somebody had shared on Facebook and the sea was looking so clear. That was one that hit really hard because I was never going to get to see that. I knew that by the time I’m allowed out again it’s going to be back to how it was and I’m never going to get to see the sea looking all nice and not polluted.
Staying in for so long was definitely a struggle at times, there were occasions when we were climbing the walls a bit. It’s very weird to not just go out and feel the air, not be out in the sun. There have been times when we’ve said to each other: Should we just sneak out first thing in the morning? No, we won’t do it just in case, just in case.
There is, I think, a sense of being forgotten about, but also a sense of being safe because you are at home.
How would you sum up the experience of shielding, from a local and a national perspective?
Locally things have been okay. The whole reason we moved back to Portsmouth from Eastleigh is that people are just so accommodating and friendly in the community we’re in here. We ordered stuff from Wild Thyme, we ordered stuff from the Beehive in Albert Road. I’ve definitely realised the benefits of keeping in touch with more local businesses online.
I also had a call from the Hive, a really lovely lady called me just to check in on me: ‘Have you got everything you need, have you got somebody who can get shopping for you, medications, that sort of thing?’
At that point we were sorted so I said, ‘Yes, we’re fine.’
Actually, I called them because I got my first food parcel and I didn’t particularly want a second one but I didn’t know who to contact. They were really great, and gave me advice on something that didn’t really fall under their remit.
I’ve been lucky as well, in that I have been able to get a delivery slot with a pharmacy service called Echo which is really good. They deliver your prescriptions and things for you and we have got family who check in, friends who check in.
Nationally it’s been a mess, from being told a letter would arrive between two different dates and then it arrived late. I’ve got an aunt who is shielding as well, she didn’t get her letter until three weeks after I got mine. It was also very unclear when shielding was going to end. I remember watching a press briefing and it was all about football and I could feel myself getting more and more angry because there was nothing about when I could go out. You get to the point when you’re relying on things like Twitter and the things that people are saying. I remember reading a news article about a whole category of people who had been told by text that they don’t have to shield. I think that was in mid-June and I was panicking because I didn’t know if that applied to me. I just didn’t know what was going on.
We were all experiencing this horrible situation in different ways. Some people have lost their jobs, some people have lost loved ones. There are self-employed people who are out of work. A lot of people are anxious right now, a lot of people feel very vulnerable and I think it’s important that we’re all respectful of each other. I also think we should be aware that other people might have stuff going on that we don’t know about.
S&C has been awarded funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on diverse communities and sectors in Portsmouth:
- voluntary sector, including charities, community groups and social enterprises
- small businesses and self-employed people
- BAME communities
We have also been awarded funding from the Public Interest News Foundation Emergency Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on migrants, and asylum seekers and refugees.