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Coronavirus / ‘We are in this together’ – local shielders speak about their experiences and fears

Kerrie Jamieson with her son John: 'Don't have the confidence to go out'.

SINCE the beginning of April 960 people in Shetland with medical conditions that puts them at a higher risk of a serious outcome should they become infected with Covid-19 were asked by the Scottish Government to stay at home and shield.

As of last Saturday (1 August) the Scottish Government advised people who had been shielding that they no longer needed to do so and could now follow the same advice as everyone else in Scotland.

The number of people in Scotland who are infectious is now very low. The latest estimate shows that from 31 July there are approximately one in 18,160 people who are infectious.

Life has not been easy for the many people who have been shielding. Surviving through an illness or living with a permanent health condition creates a way of living that can be very different from what other people may define as ‘normal.’

Not all symptoms of an illness or disability are visible to others, which means that shielders aren’t always visually vulnerable.

There are currently approximately 100 Shetland Islands Council employees who have been shielding for the last four months. One of them is Kerrie Jamieson from North Roe who is an early years support worker.

She and her 12-year-old son John started shielding at the beginning of April due to them both having health issues whilst also caring for her younger son, aged six.

She expressed how challenging it has been as a single parent raising her children whilst shielding during lockdown.

“It was very tricky coping with the summer. The kids were so distressed. I’ve still got John my oldest son who’s scared to go out. He hasn’t been to a shop since March,” she said.

“He’s terrified who he’s going to bump into. He was in hospital last year and it worried him.  I feel I don’t have the confidence that I had to go out and about like I did before.”

She described the uncertainty of not knowing what will happen next with the pandemic as worrying.

“We’ve been stuck at home, our routine was changed. I hadn’t slept for weeks, just wondering what’s going to happen from one day to the next,” she said.

“Fortunately, I got a Tesco delivery priority slot every week. The local surgery has been helpful in making sure we get medications and family members have helped too.

“We’re starting to get out and about a bit more now. We can at least go for a walk. But it’s the uncertainty of what’s going to happen next. Are we going to get the next second wave? Will we have to go back into lockdown?”

Alex Bendix: ‘I am not able to shield indefinitely.’

Alex Bendix is a 23-year-old student from Vidlin who is studying international relations at St Andrews University and lives in Dundee. He has had diabetes since childhood and returned home to stay with his parents just before lockdown was officially announced.

He chose to return home because he felt he would be safer in Shetland: “I was very cautious about coming here from Dundee potentially bringing something very harmful back into the community.

“I’ve been shielding by not going out in the community very often and if I did go out on my daily exercise, I was very aware of staying more than two metres away from anybody.

“Within the house I was making sure that I had meals separately from the family and used a separate bathroom. However, this wasn’t sustainable long term.”

Alex returned to Dundee two weeks before shielding officially paused to “continue with his life” while also putting the final touches to his masters dissertation before handing it in.

He continues to shield as much as he is able in Dundee but is realistic about the prospects.

“I can see that Covid-19 is going to be a long term thing, and I am not going to be able to shield indefinitely, so the challenge for me is how do I shield as much as possible, whilst still being able to live my life, and not get back in that poor mental state that I was in previously,” he described the balancing act he has to perform.

Many shielders feel extremely vulnerable which as Alex confessed was something that made him concerned as to “how much I could spread the virus”.

He said: “If somebody gave it to me I am more likely to get it, harbour it and then spread it again – it was never about me worrying about myself, it was always about who am I going to infect because of my actions.”

In a small community such as Shetland shielders are the one group of people that have had to be extremely careful to take responsibility for the state of their health.

They rely on the rest of their community to take the same responsibility. As another shielder expressed, “we’re in this together. If there is a group that has to shield then this is for the benefit of the whole community.

“You can’t say shielding people are the only ones vulnerable. We are all vulnerable.”

Alex Purbrick

If you are shielding you can continue to receive help:

  • Shetland Coronavirus Support Hub can assist with enquiries from vulnerable individuals or their families. Call 0800 0308780 or email covid19support@shetland.gov.uk
  • Prescriptions, essential items and food you buy can be delivered by NHS Volunteer Responders. Call 0808 196 3646 (open 8am-8pm)
  • Priority slots for supermarket deliveries (if you previously registered for free food parcels)