FEARS have been expressed that some disabled people with long-term health conditions could be put more at risk as a result of the easing of lockdown measures.
John Pring, who runs the Disability News Service (DNS), said the Independent Sage Group have already warned the Government’s decision to ease the lockdown was “dangerous” and could lead to further localised epidemics.
And researchers from University College London said in a study published in the Lancet that easing the lockdown too soon could lead to thousands of avoidable deaths among people with underlying health conditions such as heart and kidney disease, diabetes and severe obesity.
DNS say most of this group are not on the list of about 2.5 million people across the UK considered to be “clinically extremely vulnerable” to the virus and who have been advised to “shield themselves for some time yet”.
A snap poll of more than 600 disabled people who are most at risk from the virus showed nearly nine in 10 of them did not want the lockdown relaxed.
The poll of people who are shielding or clinically vulnerable to the virus was carried out by the user-led organisation Buckinghamshire Disability Services.
Meanwhile, disabled activist Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), told an online rally held by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity that if the lockdown ended too soon, many more disabled people would lose their lives.
She pointed to the loss of the disabled activist and DPAC member Manjeet Kaur, who died last month from coronavirus.
Ellen Clifford told the online rally: “If lockdown ends too soon, we will lose many, many more, either through the virus or through over-stretched NHS resources, not being able to respond to the illnesses or pre-existing impairments that disabled people have.”
She told the rally that DPAC was particularly concerned about disabled workers who were receiving letters from the government telling them they needed to continue to self-isolate while they were also being pressured back into work by their employers.
DPAC claimed the Government was “deliberately putting more disabled people’s lives at risk”.
Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) also raised concerns about the lifting of the lockdown, although it pointed out that some disabled people had found lockdown “utterly inaccessible” and had been pushed into crisis due to isolation and the change of routine and therefore could be glad to see it lifted sooner.
But Dennis Queen, a GMCDP spokesperson, said her organisation was concerned about the measures being taken to loosen the lockdown.
She said: “Many of us cannot perform the social distancing required, so we will be reliant on others avoiding us.
“Many disabled people who are vulnerable to infection (and won’t qualify for certain intensive care unit treatments) are not on the shielding list, but are still not safe to be out in public spaces.
“More people being around in general means care, health and support staff will be exposed to more risk of COVID-19.
“Some people feel they will be locked down until there is a cure or a vaccine – and will be locked down longer if we lower lockdown too early and this causes another spike.”
GMCDP urged all disabled workers to join a union and seek support if they were being asked to return to work too soon for their welfare, and called on the government to ensure there was live British Sign Language interpretation, captions and audio description on all public announcements about lockdown, and to produce it in accessible formats.
Dennis Queen added: “We urge the Government to invest in and subsidise development of clear-view masks and then make them available for free to everyone who needs them – many people struggle to communicate when they can’t see faces, so this is an access issue.”
Disability Rights UK (DR UK) was another disabled people’s organisation to highlight that some disabled people were alarmed at the lockdown being eased so soon, while others were desperate to be freed from its restrictions.
A DR UK spokesperson said: “We would hope the Government is following the best scientific and medical advice, and not just basing lockdown easing on economic advice.
“Many disabled people quite rightly fear the consequences of catching coronavirus and the potential impacts of easing lockdown.
“The guidance is so new, we don’t know what its impacts will be yet.
“Our role as an organisation is to listen to disabled people. We are receiving a range of opinions from disabled people.
“We are hearing people’s fears that lockdown is being lifted too soon, and that it puts people receiving care, both at home and in care homes, at serious risk.
“We are also hearing from disabled people who want to get on with living independently, and being allowed out of lockdown, with the necessary safety precautions and adaptations we need firmly in place.
“The low value placed on our lives has been evident in how the care home situation has been handled, along with the frailty scale released and conversations about [Do Not Resuscitate notices].”
The grassroots disabled people’s organisation
(BRIL) also said it believed that easing the lockdown rules would put disabled and chronically-ill people at further risk.