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'I would like to live a bit longer, wouldn’t everybody?': how the vulnerable are coping with coronavirus

Up to 1.5 million people with severe health conditions including some cancers, cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have been told to self-isolate by the government because they are at a much greater risk from coronavirus.

Free food parcels are being sent out to those who cannot access supplies but there are fears people in need have been missed off the list and that the government has underestimated food insecurity in the UK – leaving many feeling helpless.

Self-isolating elderly and vulnerable people have told of the stresses of shielding themselves from coronavirus while receiving no contact from the government.

June, 77, Whitley, Northumberland.

I don’t usually ask for much help, I live alone and just get on with it. I don’t expect miracles but I do feel if the government is telling me to stay indoors for three months then they have to help me. I have refractory celiac disease – a serious autoimmune condition – heart problems and asthma. My doctor said I am high priority and I have registered with the government on the website, but they did not get back to me so I did it again: it’s very frustrating. The supermarket said I cannot get priority for delivery till hearing from the government and I’ve only got enough food for the next few days. I would like to live a bit longer, wouldn’t everybody?

Paul, 87, and Geraldine, 79, Denbigh, Wales

The vulnerable were told to expect letters telling them what to do 10 days ago but we are still listening for the postman. As an 87-year-old cancer and open heart surgery survivor, and the sole carer for a 79-year-old triple cancer sufferer currently undergoing treatment, we are also finding it impossible to get online deliveries from supermarkets. They are in disarray, and a little more official sympathy would not go amiss. We can’t expose ourselves to the virus.

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Margaret, 89, Bexley, south-east London

I have dermatitis herpetiforme and autoimmune restated condition, and I had a heart attack 11 years ago after my husband died. I live in a retirement block where I am self-isolating. I kept ringing the supermarkets to see if I could get a delivery but they said to contact the government and see if I could qualify for a priority home delivery slot. I filled in a lengthy form which asked whether I had any of a long list of medical conditions, and I had to say no. So I have been forced to rely on family members – who are themselves trying to isolate for various reasons – for shopping.

Max, 82, in Craig Cefn Parc, near Swansea

Max and his wife at home.

Max and his wife at home. Photograph: Handout

I thought I would automatically be on the “at risk” list as an 82-year-old former RAF engineer with a heart condition who is waiting for a bladder cancer operation and has limited mobility. I tried to make a supermarket order but an automated response said they hadn’t received the government list yet, while another shop said I wasn’t on it. I doubt that I am the only person who slipped through the net and it looked like I might have to chance my luck and go shopping until Sainsbury’s eventually told me I fulfilled their criteria for a delivery

Paul, 74, Norwich

I have one good lung and severe asthma, and sometimes I have large ulcers on my legs and arms. These food sites have a log-on if you’re old and on your own, but why ask if they’re all full up for deliveries? Why don’t the government get more vans to deliver to people if they want people to stay inside? Where are the volunteers?

I signed up on the government site, pressed the final button, and they said they would get in touch by email or phone but they haven’t. They’re too busy with other things, aren’t they. There is a food shop not far from mine so I get the bus when there’s no one about. We like to not rely on other people like we should do. We’re used to it, so I’m just doing what I’ve always done, I’ve never had help in the past.

Grace, 79, in Bristol

Grace stood in her doorway

Grace stood in her doorway. Photograph: Handout

It’s strange that somebody like me with a full-time oxygen supply who has to self-isolate still has not received a letter from the NHS. I’m sure it’s just a blip in the system but for others it must be very worrying. I also filled out the government form last Monday but there wasn’t even an automatic response to say we’ve got your application like almost everything you subscribe to these days. It would be so simple to set up. It leaves a lot of asking why we haven’t been sent a letter or that we are being considered for this list; my daughter is supplying me with stuff, but where am I if things really do go wrong?

Some names were changed.


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