Shielders say lifting of England’s Plan B restrictions ‘complete nightmare’

The guidance to work from home and compulsory mask-wearing in shops will be removed from plan B restrictions in England on 26 January.

The removal of these measures has raised concerns about the health and welfare of millions of people in England. Three people who have been shielding have told the Guardian.

I can't see myself going out in the near future.

A former IT business analyst who retired last year, Brown lives with her daughter who has Down's syndrome. Both are extremely vulnerable and have been since March 2020.

When official restrictions have been lifted, Brown and his family have been shielding because he is immunosuppressed due to the drugs he takes. We haven't been anywhere for two years.

She said the lifting of plan B restrictions was appalling. If people aren't wearing masks, I can't see myself going out in the near future. My retirement plan was to travel around the world, but my trip to India was canceled. Even travelling on a plane would be difficult, because the air on the plane is circulating, so we haven't taken that risk at all.

Brown has been able to cope with the isolation by going on two walks a day with her dogs, Rosie and Otis, and talking to her other children and son on the internet. She is worried that her daughter has lost her independence.

My daughter didn't get to have her own apartment. I have been trying to get her into a place of her own for years, but they wanted her to move in before the lockdown because they wanted to make sure she was safe. I wouldn't have been able to visit her for a while, so we missed the chance.

It is the worst time of the year to lift restrictions.

Kate*, 49, who works for a university in the Midlands, is extremely vulnerable after her spleen was removed due to an acute illness in 2019. She began shielding a week before the government's shielding programme began.

Kate said that the government tried in the beginning. Shielding was handled well. We had letters to show that we shouldn't have to go back to work. Universal credit was good for those who needed it, because we had offers of support. Over the last year there has been almost nothing.

Kate says the lifting of plan B restrictions is a complete nightmare. This is the worst time of the year to be doing this. Everyone can skip wearing masks again, that's frightening.

Even though the government doesn't support it, my employer assumed I was continuing to shield. In support groups on Facebook, people in my situation have been forced back into customer-facing jobs, which is appalling. You can ask your employer not to do this, but there is only so much you can do. Most people don't have the time or money to fight it.

I would have been ill in my previous job if I had returned six months ago. There should be a clear policy for the clinically extremely vulnerable. I had to explain to my new team that they wouldn't see me as I work from home. That shouldn't be something I have to explain.

It is easier to shield in France.

Dave, a 66-year-old retired social services worker, has been shielding since March 2020 due to a history of leukaemia and heart problems. Dave and his wife closed down from the beginning. Since it all began, neither my wife nor I have really socialised. We didn't see family until recently, but we used to chat with them. We only met outside for a picnic because they were very responsible with tests.

Dave moved to rural France in the summer of 2021. Dave says he feels safer in France. People were wearing masks when we arrived. There are Covid vaccine passes in France. I live in a rural area so I can sometimes go to the food shop and the pharmacy when it is quiet, even though the vaccines have little or no effect.

He said that there has been more emphasis on personal freedom in England. There have been disagreements about restrictions in France, but there seems to have been more focus on pulling together here. The medics, social workers and care workers are not being listened to in the UK, and the country would get behind them if the government gave them more credence.

Some names have been changed.