Every day, Rebbecca Robinson arrives for work at a busy secondary school in South London, with a growing sense of anxiety.
“During the first wave, I was told by the GP to shield,” she says. “But now I feel like we’ve been pushed out into the fire. It’s so frightening and worrying.”
Rebbecca has multiple sclerosis and is one of the 2.2 million “clinically extremely vulnerable” people the Government protected from April 24.
On August 1, that scheme was “paused”.
This week, as cases escalate, she has been anxiously listening to announcements – but there’s been not one word of advice for shielders among the Government’s help package for the second Covid wave.
Instead, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons “our guidance continues to be that you do not need to shield – except in local lockdown areas.”
Rebbecca, 34, is a teaching assistant in a school with more than 1,000 pupils in a borough where cases are once again rising, but which is not in local lockdown. She also has to drop her son at a different school.
“He is very good about social distancing and washing his hands, he knows mummy has MS. But it’s hard for him too,” she says.
Kerry Bell, a stroke survivor who has compromised immunity from leukaemia and a rare type of severe asthma, feels utterly abandoned.
“We’ve been thrown under the bus,” she says. “It feels like the Government really don’t know what to do with us. They shielded us before, but now, nothing. We will be the next care home scandal.
“Shielders aren’t just elderly people – we are newborn babies upwards, people with careers and families. It’s horrific what’s happening to us. It’s dangerous.”
Even though the Government is advising people to shield in local lockdown areas, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be given support.
Kerry lives in one of only two areas in the UK we could find that are actually offering support – for now.
“In Leicester we have been advised to shield since March 23,” says Kerry, 56. “We’re lucky because our local authority delivers food boxes and helps with getting prescriptions.
“We can get official letters that say you should be working from home or which can help you get statutory sick pay. But our help is being paused on October 5, just as we move into a second wave.” Meanwhile, the council’s website says food deliveries will end on October 2.
Since shielding during the first wave, both Kerry and her husband have been made redundant. “He’s now in temporary work, so for me to be safe we have to live separately within the house,” she says.
Sandra is a nursing assistant on an elderly care ward in Surrey, just returning to work after shielding following treatment for pancreatic cancer.
“I’ve had my spleen removed which puts me at risk so it’s a worry,” she says.
“My job involves personal care, close contact with patients. It looks like we might have a case of the virus already. It doesn’t feel like the Government is doing anything to protect people.”
Of the 2.2 million original shielders, ONS figures suggest 627,000 of them worked before being advised to shield.
This means hundreds of thousands of people may be risking their lives daily to work. If they don’t, they will have no entitlement to statutory sick pay – and could be sacked.
One woman told me her husband, who is extremely clinically vulnerable, had changed his supermarket shifts to 3am “so he comes into contact with fewer people”.
Meanwhile, the lack of support for other groups of shielders – including those too sick, elderly or young to work – means they face having to leave the house too.
Tonight, Shadow Minister for Disabled People Vicky Foxcroft wrote to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, asking him to urgently clarify the situation.
“We are deeply concerned,” their letter says. “You were asked on Monday in the House what your advice to the shielding community was; you did not answer. We now ask you to take this opportunity to clarify this advice urgently, so those shielding are not once again made to feel like an afterthought.”
Phillip Anderson, head of policy at the MS Society, said: “While the Government has paused the shielding programme it’s always said it could resume if cases continue to rise.
“As we approach a potential second peak of the virus, the Chancellor’s latest plans would mean someone on the shielding list who cannot work from home could have to either risk their health in returning to work, or have their job labelled as ‘unviable’ and possibly, and unfairly, face redundancy.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We understand the concerns of those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and want to reassure them we are continually reviewing our response to the pandemic in line with the advice of our scientific and medical experts.
“Shielding has been paused since the start of August in most of the country, but it is still advised in areas where prevalence of the virus is higher.
“We will continue to work closely with local councils and public health experts to consider how best to support individuals in the event that shielding is reintroduced in additional local areas.”
Meanwhile, in the morning, Rebbecca Robinson and hundreds of thousands of others clinically vulnerable to Covid-19, will go anxiously to work.