More than half a million people with conditions compromising their immune systems risk becoming “the pandemic’s forgotten victims” as Boris Johnson lifts the final remaining Covid-19 restrictions, charities have warned.
A group of 18 charities has combined behind a set of demands to ensure that Mr Johnson’s upcoming plan for England to “live with Covid” does not discriminate against people with conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis, kidney disease or asthma which make them particularly vulnerable to the virus.
The prime minister has also been accused of “throwing vulnerable people to the wolves” with plans to scrap free Covid tests and end mandatory isolation for infectious people.
Mr Johnson has said the plan – due for publication on Monday – will lift the legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive test from next week, a month earlier than previously scheduled.
But the government has yet to explain the scientific basis for this decision or how immune-compromised people will be supported to remain safe.
The plan is expected also to include a timetable to wind down universal free testing for coronavirus as well as the £500 support payment for people forced to stay home while isolating.
Mr Johnson’s announcement has sparked fears of significantly more infectious people circulating in shops, workplaces and public transport, many of them experiencing no symptoms themselves but presenting a contagion risk to those they encounter.
Ms Cooper said: “Vulnerable people are once again being thrown to the wolves by the Conservatives as their big push to abandon all precautions is leaving many to live in fear and isolation.
“The government’s own advice to vulnerable people says they should have people test before they meet and avoid crowded spaces to avoid infection. This means many continue to shield, but don’t get any additional support to do so.
“Ending access to free Covid testing will further isolate these people and cut off a key way they can protect themselves. Covid testing must remain available to everyone for free and ministers need to engage with the millions of people who are still at increased risk to offer greater support.”
Mother-of-two Sarah Hemmings, a 34-year-old teacher from Norwich living with MS, said it seemed that the government had decided to make the most vulnerable “learn to live with the real ramifications of coronavirus”.
Previous Covid restrictions – including isolation for those testing positive – allowed her to maintain some social interaction, said Ms Hemmings.
But she added: “Now I feel I am the most restricted and least free I have been in my adult life. Instead of returning to the career I love in teaching, I find myself cautious in hugging my own child as she returns from a school where case rates have exploded.
“It makes me feel angry and ignored. There is no end in sight. The risks must seem low to those who don’t have to take them.”
Charities including the MS Society, Blood Cancer UK and Kidney Care UK set out five key tests the PM’s plan must pass to ensure it supports those most at risk from Covid-19.
These include better communication with the most vulnerable; easy and timely access to Covid treatments; improved employment protection and support; a plan for the use of preventative treatments; and continued access for all to testing kits free of charge.
As well as being more likely than the general population to suffer serious illness if they catch Covid, severely immunocompromised people do not get as much protection from vaccines, they said.
The director of research at Blood Cancer UK, Helen Rowntree, said: “Throughout the pandemic, the huge anxiety our community has faced has been made worse by the poor government communications.
“The government needs to set out how it will make sure the immune-compromised are not left behind as the pandemic’s forgotten victims as the country returns to normal.”