Freedom Day for everyone?

Blog by Janka Penther

From Monday 19 July 2021 many of the restriction we have all been living with for 16 months will be eased or completely lifted in England.

Whilst I am excited for my “normal” friends and colleagues for night clubs to open, not having to wear masks in most indoor spaces and arranging or attending gatherings with an unlimited number of people, I am also terrified for my own health.

Since March 2020 I have been working from home, those of you who have attended video calls with me will have seen my posh bike shed ?? that has been turned into an office. Following government advice, I have been shielding for most of that time, the definition of this ranging from not leaving the house to exercising on my own outdoors and only very occasionally meeting others - always outdoors and socially distanced. I haven’t set foot into a shop in all this time, a visit to the hairdressers at 9am was a random treat that (in hindsight) was rather well planned between Lockdown 2 and 3.

We have all had a tough time during Covid and I totally understand the urge to want to go on holiday abroad, bin off any social distancing and to never wear one of this uncomfortable mask again – we deserve it, right?

But for me personally, as an Extremely Vulnerable Person (EVP), the time commencing 19 July will be filled with anxiety and my already small bubble will get even smaller. When people stop wearing masks and don’t have to socially distance anymore, my own risk to catch Covid 19 will increase. Infection numbers are already rising and, even though I have had 2x vaccines, I am not very protected due to me being immunosuppressed. Studies have shown that immunosuppressed individuals have between 0 and 40% antibodies after the 2nd vaccine, so we rely on others getting vaccinated to decrease transmissibility, to keep wearing masks indoors and to keep a respectful distance. With all due respect but leaving my health in the hand of others to this extend makes me somewhat nervous.

Some argue that EVPs should just stay away if they don’t feel comfortable. Don’t see others, don’t go shops, don’t attend events. That, however, is not a very inclusive approach I believe. I think we need to be mindful of the challenges some of our customers and colleagues are facing in these already difficult times and ensure that they can talk to us about how they are feeling. They are not “being silly” but have very reasonable concerns. When we hear how they are feeling, is there anything we can do to put their minds at peace, are there perhaps certain measures we can put into place for them to be and/or feel safe/r.

I personally have always had a very mindful, understanding, supportive and proactive response from my colleagues at Advance which I am very grateful for so within my work environment I feel at ease with the changes. However, when I step outside my “Advance bubble” things are different and I can imagine some of our colleagues and customers may feel similar. I recently attended one of the Customer Collectives (thank you everyone for making me feel so very welcome) and we talked about Covid and some of our customers shared how they were feeling about life during this pandemic. I was pleased to hear no one was panicking, our colleagues on the front line (and most likely also behind the scenes) are clearly doing an amazing job. At the same time, I think we need to appreciate that feelings in regards to the current measures may change, perhaps depending on infection numbers, personal experience or other information gathered.

As I am writing this piece as an EVP ( I have this label due to my disability, Cystic Fibrosis and my subsequent double lung transplant), I am pleased to be part of the Advance Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Group.

Thank you

Janka Penther

Recruitment Coordinator