‘I had to be very vigilant’ – Shielded people speak about first trips outside

A woman who has been shielding due to her high risk for coronavirus has asked the public to obey social distancing measures, as she explained that she had a panic attack on her first walk out in 10 weeks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that 2.2 million extremely vulnerable people shielding from the virus would be allowed to leave their homes as part of Government measures to ease the lockdown.

Elliot Wollen, 30, who has had a kidney transplant, told the PA news agency: “It’s been a big change as I am normally very active… Not being able to exercise has had an effect on me physically due to weight gain and also mentally.

“When I first started shielding it was March and now it’s June, so it’s strange going from early spring to summer without going outside. The smells of being outside are really strong after being inside for several months.

“It was said that the shielded group were contacted about the change to going outside which is untrue, we were not contacted, we found out via the news.”

Mr Wollen, a full-time student from Harlow, said that the importance of social distancing needs to be made clearer now that those shielding can go outside.

“There is not a profile for the shielding group, we are people from all backgrounds and ages,” he said.

“People may think that we are just moaning and we should just choose to stay in or go outside, but what makes it difficult is when you feel like you can’t make an informed decision due to Government mixed messaging which has been happening throughout the pandemic.”

(PA Graphics)

Keisha Meek, a project management analyst from Bradford, has been shielding due to thoracic endometriosis and recurrent pneumonia, and said she was “excited but scared” by her first walk outside.

Ms Meek, 28, told PA: “I went for a walk down the canal at 6am this morning… I kept as far to the edge of the path as I could so that I could jump into bushes if I needed.

“I thought I wouldn’t possibly need to, but I did twice.

“I had a panic attack next to the canal and was nearly crying because they were nearly touching me and it was uncalled for, they had space to be two metres. I am going to go for another drive tonight and see if I can find something a bit safer like an open field.

“I felt really excited but scared. I feel better for the air and it’s helped one of my many health conditions calm down. It’s been good to get out and I’ve always been an outdoor person. I still really miss my friends and family, but it’s too early.”

Ms Meek explained that shielding also affects her ability to work, as she works on a contract basis and will not be able to return to an office in person.

“They [the Government] are ignoring one massive issue which is our employment, which is vital.

“My work contract ends in August and they are saying shielding is likely to be extended, so I don’t know how I’m going to find another job at all or even if I did, how do I get the equipment.

“I’m terrified because benefits won’t cover my bills and I need my car to get to my monthly hospital injection.”

Been for my first 6am walk. Thinking it would be okay. It’s not the government whose the problem it’s the public! There’s so much room on the canal enough for 2m it’s also quiet yet people are still brushing past me! Us extremely vulnerable are now out! Are they stupid?#shielding

— Keisha Meek (@keisha_meek) June 1, 2020

Debbie, who did not want to give her surname, told PA: “It’s been really nice to go out to walk and to feel that you don’t always have to be behind a closed door, but I did feel quite anxious going out, not everybody seems to mind about walking past you on a pavement. I had to be very vigilant, which is not very relaxing.

“I think it would be amazing if the Government could give some protected time out in the parks, even if it’s just half an hour for people who are shielding. It would be so reassuring.”

In a statement, the Department for Health and Social Care said: “Those being shielded still remain at risk and are advised to only leave the house once a day.

“They should not go to work or the shops and should avoid crowded places where they can’t social distance.”

Ms Meek added: “I just wish people would stop taking advantage of their freedom we don’t have by not social distancing, which potentially will add to our shield and risk.”

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