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Opinion: Coronavirus response leaves people like me feeling hung out to dry

PUBLISHED: 15:38 12 March 2020 | UPDATED: 16:22 12 March 2020

Health Secretary Matt Hancock (centre) updated the House of Commons on the national situation surrounding coronavirus. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Health Secretary Matt Hancock (centre) updated the House of Commons on the national situation surrounding coronavirus. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

As somebody with a so-called “underlying health condition”, I’m used to seeing the facts get twisted.

People have been wearing medical masks as a precaution against coronavirus. Photo by Ilyas Tayfun Salci/Anadolu Agency via Getty ImagesPeople have been wearing medical masks as a precaution against coronavirus. Photo by Ilyas Tayfun Salci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

And the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak has left people like me - someone with Diabetes - feeling exploited in order to make the 'healthy' general public feel reassured.

Because rather than speaking to those 'at risk' groups directly, and actually providing clear instructions on how to minimise our exposure, simply reiterating the idea that those who died have had an underlying health condition has become something of a propaganda effort.

According to statistics from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention - and echoed uncritically by every national outlet - those with an underlying cardiovascular condition and coronavirus had an 11% fatality rate; those with diabetes 7.5% and with respiratory diseases around 6%.

But this of course fails to account for the fact that millions of people in China suffer from diabetes and cardiovascular complications - and at a rate that increases dramatically among the elderly, who account for the majority of cases.

The number of confirmed UK coronavirus cases rose to 1,543 on Monday. Picture: GettyThe number of confirmed UK coronavirus cases rose to 1,543 on Monday. Picture: Getty

As a result, the picture presented by these figures is likely not only to be exaggerated, but leaves those with underlying health conditions in the dark.

For many of us with diabetes, asthma, heart disease and other life-long conditions, the government really hasn't been clear on this: If we're more likely to die than everyone else, what are you planning to do about it?

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To be honest, I'm furious that I'm having to check Diabetes UK for any kind of detail about why my condition leaves me more vulnerable to dying from this particular disease.

I've had to rely on anecdotal evidence from those I know, and who've had the condition longer than me, that 'diabetes statistics are usually always a bit misleading anyway'.

Promoting statistics despite their inaccuracy - or at least in a way that ignores the context - suggests that the government cares less about ensuring vulnerable people are on high alert and more about preventing economic chaos by scaring a select few instead of everyone.

The most annoying thing, however, isn't that the government is declining to make direct contact with those they consider 'vulnerable', but that the 'terrifying-the-at-risk' strategy in order to mollify general anxiety has completely failed.

Unsurprisingly, the extent of selfish individualism among all of us has meant that shelves are cleared anyway; masks are sold out online and the bulk-buying of supplies is leaving those who are 'most vulnerable' without access to antibacterial equipment.

The government's approach, and their reassurances to everyone else, has only strengthened the public's resolve to shore up their own sanity and immunity, and left 'at risk' groups - particularly the immobile and the elderly - without any recourse to 'act with extra care' as they have so far been instructed.

Even hospitals have reported a shortage in face masks and medical supplies following panic buying - which can only make it harder for them to contain this highly infectious disease.

Given that the government is finally holding a COBRA meeting to discuss coronavirus, despite the disease reaching nigh-on pandemic status weeks ago, I am expecting unequivocal and specific instruction to be delivered to those 'at risk' groups they've banged on about so incessantly.

And if 'social distancing' and working from home are likely to be recommended for these vulnerable groups as a next step - or indeed everyone - I want to know that we will not be penalised for being cursed with the conditions that most of us were simply born with.


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