As a disabled person, I'm terrified of a second wave of coronavirus

When Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the nation on 12 March, ‘We will lose many loved ones,’ I heard: ‘Sick people are collateral damage. Deal with it.’ 

It wasn’t a promise to save as many lives as possible but more a pre-emptive admission of defeat.

This has been confirmed by an announcement from the Office for National Statistics, which found that 59% of all deaths involving Covid-19 from March 2 to July 14 in the UK were of disabled people.

Considering that only 16% of the population have disabilities, it’s clear how disproportionately we have been affected by the pandemic.

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As a disabled person, it breaks my heart that so many members of my community have been allowed to die. 

After adjusting for region, population density, socio-demographic and household characteristics, coronavirus mortality rates between disabled and non-disabled people was 2.4 times higher for females and 2.0 times higher for males.

Despite these shocking figures, very little has been said about it, and there has been no public acknowledgement from the Government.

Since the data came out, there have been six Prime Minister’s Questions sessions and many more sittings in Parliament.

I’m quite ashamed to say as a disabled activist and journalist myself that I hadn’t heard of the ONS research until recently, but it hadn’t been widely shared. Instead, it feels like it was buried in amongst the ever-changing cycle of doom and deemed unimportant by those sworn to protect us.

That’s something disabled people are all too familiar with.

Coronavirus mortality rates between disabled and non-disabled people was 2.4 times higher for females and 2.0 times higher for males

In April, while we started shielding in our houses, the terrifying news came that some GP surgeries were asking chronically ill and elderly patients to sign Do Not Resuscitate forms should we become sick and taken to hospital. 

This coincided with the news coming out of Italy that doctors were so overwhelmed with patients that they were having to make the choice between choosing to treat a young, otherwise healthy patient or someone elderly or with underlying conditions. 

When healthiness is viewed as a level of worth, disabled and chronically ill people are always viewed as lesser. 

In a time when everyone was ‘all in this together’ and neighbours were spreading love on doorsteps, it felt incredibly lonely for disabled people.

Since the very beginning of the pandemic, I have felt totally left behind and abandoned by our Government. We were sent letters and told to stay indoors for 13 weeks, but given little additional support. 

Many saw their social care cut or received support from carers with insufficient personal protective equipment supplied to them. 

I found the beginning of lockdown very scary. I experienced what I believe to be coronavirus symptoms in early April meaning my primary carer, my husband, couldn’t go to the supermarket and we relied on our parents who live in the next towns and are disabled themselves.

My favourite daily activity, walking my dog, was a cautious once-a-day trip around the block to avoid everyone who’d suddenly taken to walking outdoors. I missed my family and didn’t see anyone properly until June – even then it was at a safe distance. 

At the same time, I was struggling to receive my monthly injections, which control my ovary pain, as anything non-coronavirus was cancelled. My end of March injection was cancelled six times and was almost a whole month late. I’ve had barely any healthcare for the past seven months and it has left me feeling unimportant, like I don’t matter, as well as in pain.

When healthiness is viewed as a level of worth, disabled and chronically ill people are always viewed as lesser

Shielding has meant many more like me have been cut off from support systems, friends and families. Even for those who haven’t caught coronavirus, the lockdown has had a massive effect on mental health for anyone who has spent much of it alone, unable to look after their own basic needs. An ONS report found that 35% of shielders felt their mental health and well-being had worsened during the pandemic. 

As a second lockdown is imposed, this time around the Government needs to ensure that disabled and chronically ill people can still access vital health and social care services that were just cut off last time.  

It needs to be held accountable for the thousands of deaths caused by their flimsy handling of the pandemic – and their disregard for disabled lives over the last decade.

The Conservatives have made cuts to services for disabled people, ensured hospital waiting lists are ever-lengthening and disability benefits harder to qualify for, and the figures speak for themselves. 

Between 2013 and 2019, 17,000 people died whilst waiting to hear whether they were entitled to disability benefits and a further 5,000 died within six months of being denied the disability benefit Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

Disabled people are always told ‘don’t give up’ but what more can our community do when there are those among us literally fighting for their lives. 

Where’s the mass outcry? Where are the protests? 

Why aren’t non-disabled people fighting for enough PPE for carers, so that the disabled and chronically ill who need them can safely allow them into their homes?

Too often they look down to us as signs of pity and inspiration. It shouldn’t all be down to the disabled community to speak up; we need our non-disabled peers to diversify their social media feeds and share posts about what is happening.

I’m terrified for what a second peak will mean to disabled people. How many of us can survive this when the Government won’t protect us?

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