People in high risk of contracting coronavirus tell us their fears

As of today, 35 people have tragically died because of coronavirus – many of whom had underlying health issues.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 can exacerbate existing conditions and make it harder for a person to recover should they get infected, and odds are higher that the infection will be fatal.

This includes people who suffer from chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma or lung disease.

Aside from the fear of catching a potentially fatal virus, some people are also growing frustrated with the lack of value for their lives  – with social media awash with arguments between people at higher risk and people who say coronavirus is ‘no big deal’.

We catch up with seven people who have a chronic condition or other underlying medical issue on how they are coping with the situation, if they are worried and how others are treating their fears.

Here’s what they told us.

Sara, 37, suffers from asthma

‘I suffer from asthma and people have been raising an eyebrow when I say that I’ve not left the house for anything other than work, the nursery run and food shopping in the last two weeks.

‘A lot of people definitely think I’m being over the top, but I have family over in Italy so hearing their story is adding to my anxiety massively.

‘Equally, I feel that as they are in isolation (everyone’s fine thankfully) they need to hear from me more, even if it’s not good for my mental health.

‘So far, I am social distancing as much as possible. I’ve also stocked up on my inhalers, and have now requested to work mainly from home (my company is well-equipped to do so) and this has now been granted by HR.

‘A lot of people said I should be trusting the government but it’s not easy when you see what’s happening in other countries.

‘I’ve not stockpiled but have done a big shop which will allow me, my partner and my daughter to keep going for about a week to 10 days without leaving the house at all.’

Laura, 26, Type 1 diabetic

‘I’m a type 1 diabetic and have been for a long time. I’ve always picked up infections/viruses and have been hospitalised in the past for tonsillitis and norovirus, so when everything started to spread about coronavirus, I started to get a bit worried.

‘I tried to tell myself it would be fine but realistically, I am high risk and I need to be sensible. I think this week people are listening more but it was really upsetting last week to have people say they wouldn’t bother cutting back on gatherings etc. because they were healthy, because there didn’t seem to be a realisation that by doing that, they were putting people like me more at risk.

‘I get that you don’t want to avoid going out completely but do you really need to spend every night down the pub?

‘Some of the hardest parts of the last week has been from people treating me like I am overreacting or being silly or saying “it’s just a bad flu”. I have been seriously unwell from a “bad flu” before and this is much worse. Those statistics and numbers you see about “vulnerable group” are people too and they deserve protection.

‘Initially, I planned to just stay in my flat in London, work from home and avoid going out. My boyfriend and I also decided not to see each other for a while because he isn’t able to work at home and has to travel in and out of London every day.

“After thinking about it though, I have decided to just leave the city now before it gets any worse. My parents live on a farm in Ireland, where I have lots of space away from anyone else, as it’s easier for them to avoid coming into contact with other people.

‘I do feel a bit worried about going through an airport and getting on a flight today but I think once I do that, I’ll be much safer.’

Joshua, 32, on post-transplant immunosuppressants

‘I’m on post-transplant immunosuppressants from a heart transplant, but I’m also young, so the information is a bit all over the place at the moment.

‘Overall I’m pretty calm, other people tend to be more concerned on my behalf, and I’ve had friends taking it all a little more seriously in the past week.

‘That being said, I’ve been pretty strict on public transport – moving away from people coughing and spitting. I did end up stopping an older guy who kept walking up and down the train coughing quite badly and asking him if he should really be going to work – it didn’t go down well.

‘I’m now working from home, which I’m really lucky that my employer is very comfortable offering. The official advice is still very vague, a lot is focused on older people, which it should be, but for younger vulnerable groups such as myself, there’s very little information.

‘Even the official NHS advice for transplant outpatients is on an answerphone and suggests “washing hands and eating fruit” – which feels a bit like it’s a little half-thought-through.

‘I’m certainly wary of catching coronavirus and I would say that I’ve taken to wiping everything down and I’ve not really been out since last week.

‘I wash my hands so often they look like they belong to an 80-year old.’

Lee, 34, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis

‘I’ve taken measures to protect myself over the years so, for me, there’s an element of normality to the increased hygiene, infection control and social distancing.

‘But I know that if I do contract COVID-19, it will hit me hard, so I’m taking all possible precautions, but trying not to be stressed about it as that inhibits the immune system even more.

‘I am actively avoiding situations where there are large numbers of people, I’m using social distances when I do need to go out and am being extra careful of touch points such as trolleys, petrol pumps, door handles etc. I’m also doing my shopping, walking, exercise at the most anti-social times so its quieter, and I’m using video with clients where possible.

‘I feel there’s a lack of care for people like me in high risk groups and it’s sad but a reality of the culture we live in today. Public officials saying we should be prepared for a few loved ones dying isn’t exactly compassionate and considerate of others and their challenges.

‘There’s a lot of focus on the elderly which is important and fair enough, but what about everyone who is at a higher risk being considered in the big picture. Maybe I’m asking for too much, but I would say to anyone who is of the opinion it’s “no big deal” to imagine that person being someone you are close to, and see how you feel then.’

Jemma, 32, suffers from endometriosis

‘I have endometriosis, which some specialists believe to be linked to a low immune system (although I’m unsure of the specifics) but it certainly affects me and many others I know.

‘Yes I am worried that I’ll get coronavirus – due to my low immune system I am always worried about any infections or the flu season.

‘My partner and I tend to have to change our lifestyle to give me extra protection during winter months as it is. If I come into contact with someone who has just the sniffles I can then go down badly for four to six weeks.

‘It isn’t like when others get it, I can feel it all over my body, all my glands and lymph nodes swell, I get bad fevers and I tend to be bed-bound for weeks and then need treatment. This affects my work, my social life and my relationships.

‘On top of this I have had pneumonia before. So yes I am worried; I am worried that if I get it , I will get it badly and my body won’t cope and on top of that, it will be an added stress to the NHS. I am also worried that if my partner gets it I won’t be able to look after him.

‘We were meant to go on a dream holiday for a month to Singapore, Bali and Australia which we have spent the last year saving for. I was so excited – not least because part of the trip was for a friend’s wedding, but also because I’ve had a very bad year health-wise.

‘But because of coronavirus, we have now spent the last four days trying to contact the hotels and flight companies to cancel our entire trip and have so far lost thousands.

‘We have decided to keep me as safe as possible until there is more news around the situation by staying in 99% of the time.’

Ariadna, 29, Type 1 diabetic

‘Basically, I have decided to go into isolation until the situation calms down a little bit.

‘Friends know my health problem (diabetes type 1) and they are quite comforting and understanding. It’s quite nice to see that my close ones understand that this can affect me and it’s a difficult time. However, some people who don’t know me well keep saying that I’m an alarmist or that panic has taken over me.

‘I’m from Spain and I have family and friends reporting on the situation over there.

‘So when I try to make people conscious about how important is to take some measures to avoid the NHS collapsing and I just receive an answer saying that I’m alarmist, it’s quite exasperating.

‘I tried to make them aware that if they don’t take this as something serious people like me could be at a high risk of having serious complications. It makes me feel like they are not considering how dangerous coronavirus is for some people and I can only think how selfish people can be.

‘I normally have a good amount of medicines in case something happens, so I’m OK for the moment. When it comes to food, I didn’t stock like it was the apocalypse.

‘I won’t be the person taking all the toilet paper to build a fort in my living room.’

Lucille, 38, suffers from ulcerative Interstitial cystitis

‘I have a chronic pain condition called ulcerative interstitial cystitis and have permanent symptoms that include constant pain and fatigue. I also have five children, the youngest of which is very small for his age due to multiple anaphylactic food allergies.

‘He tends to react very badly to viruses. He caught chickenpox when he was 10 months old and required anti-viral medication as he became seriously ill after it affected his breathing, so we’re very aware of how dangerous these things can be.  

‘I am prone to catching every bug that goes around, already having been sick three times since Christmas, and I catch more than all of my children combined. 

‘I find that steering clear of as many people as possible is the only effective way to avoid catching anything, so in a way, I’ve self-isolated for years. I also work from home, running my own business, as I’m not able to have a conventional job.

‘People have always found it strange that I never go out socialising, but it’s something I just don’t have the energy for.

‘I shop online for almost everything.  It’s very rare for me to go out shopping unless it’s for a few groceries. I’ve taken a few additional sensible precautions – bought in extra bottles of Calpol and Nurofen, but not excessively. 

‘I know that I’ll be able to buy online in the event that we cannot leave the house at all, and I have been phoning ahead or sending messages to my children’s extra-curricular activities / teachers to make sure they’re still OK for us to go – no coughs or colds.

‘Like a lot of people who suffer from long-term conditions, I’m probably more prepared and content than most to stay at home, even if this goes on for months – I’ve had a lot of practice.’

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