Weekly Poll – COVID-19 Legal Restrictions

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 28 February 2022, we asked a question about the decision to end COVID-19 legal restrictions.

Results

Question. Do you agree with the decision to remove all legal COVID-19 restrictions in Scotland?

  • Yes – 33% (31 respondents)
  • No – 66% (64 respondents)

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Easing of Legal Restrictions

A new staged approach to easing COVID-19 protective measures was announced by the Scottish Government. In a statement to the Scottish Parliament on 22 February 2022, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the details of the updated Framework to manage COVID-19 through public health advice, vaccination, and treatment rather than legal restrictions. The majority of respondents (66%) do not agree with the decision to remove all legal restrictions in Scotland.

Easing Legal Restrictions Too Soon

Some disabled people believed that restrictions are being lifted too soon, at a time when COVID infection rates have been increasing.

“The positive cases of the virus and deaths may have dropped over recent weeks, but they are fluctuating and steadily increasing again, especially in Scotland.”

“How can they lift restrictions when the virus is still very much here and continuing to be spreading.”

“COVID is still rife in many areas and far too many are not obeying the rules.”

High Clinical Risk

The easing of COVID legal restrictions was of particular concern for disabled people at high clinical risk, some of whom were previously shielding and remain apprehensive about going out in public.

“As a shielder, I will be too afraid to go anywhere indoors once we become cannon fodder.”

“I am in the highly vulnerable group and therefore at high risk from COVID. I will be watching infection rates closely before I consider going to any public indoor setting.”

“It will make me terrified to go out. I just can’t risk the chance of getting COVID and becoming seriously ill. I think it’s crazy that people can go out and spread this.”

“Like many disabled people, I am still living an incredibly small life – I have not physically been to my workplace, to a cafe or bar, the cinema or theatre, or in a shopping centre etc in 2 years. It feels as if we are being left behind.”

“I now have long covid and I am still concerned that I may pick it up again as people are going to start being less strict with the cleaning regime. I work from home just now and they are looking for me to return. I’m really becoming quite anxious.”

“With a disabled wife who has been shielding since restrictions began, with myself only in town for weekly supplies, I am concerned that the risk of transmission has increased.”

“I know this will cause concern for some disabled people, and I am hoping that there will be consideration in place for them.”

Impact on the NHS

Respondents questioned the ongoing impact of COVID on the NHS and hospital admissions and how this is subsequently affecting waiting times for diagnosis and treatment.

“Whilst Omicron may be somewhat “milder” than Delta, its high transmissibility puts a higher amount of people in the hospital, putting all services under strain. This will continue to lead to surges and increase waiting lists and put people in danger when they have a medical emergency.”

“Look at the hospital admissions, they are going back up.”

“I have a son who has been waiting for a CT scan asked for by his orthopaedic consultant in early November 2021 and was told this week (March 2022) that there is now a 26-week backlog and that is rising every day. There should be no relaxation until there are no hospital admissions on COVID type illnesses.”

Support the Removal of Legal Restrictions

Some respondents believed that the decision to remove legal restrictions is a necessary step to regain some form of normality. One respondent stated that removing the restrictions would help to support businesses and the economy.

“With the vaccination programme so well advanced, and if people can be encouraged to continue to wear face masks in indoor public places, this is, barring the advent of another, more dangerous variant, probably the best approach to allow some sort of return to normality as the past years have undoubtedly had an adverse effect on many people’s mental health, as well as affecting healthcare for other serious illnesses.”

“We need to get back to some sort of normality so yes, I agree that all restrictions should be lifted now.”

“The legal restrictions have harmed the economy. It’s already difficult to find work as a disabled person. Now, we have to compete against a huge queue of non-disabled people who have lost their jobs.”

However, this was contrasted by concerns from respondents who stated that not all members of the public would follow public health guidance once legal restrictions have been lifted.

“This is a “grey” area, as lifting the restrictions will place responsibility in individuals’ hands. The reaction to masks is so varied – from paranoia to indifference and will cause ‘scenes” in certain environments.”

“People are too irresponsible, and it puts people with long term health conditions at serious risk.”

“I feel I must heavily caveat my response. I would have said, yes remove legal restrictions and would hope guidance and common sense would be followed especially on public transport and inside public spaces. However, I would probably be naive in thinking people would use common sense rather than be mandated.”

“Unfortunately, many people will not consider others properly and will not apply their common sense and therefore it is with regret that I feel legal restrictions should remain in place to ensure everyone can go about their lives with relative confidence in their safety to do so.”

Face Coverings

Respondents made specific comments about face coverings. Current legal requirements on the use of face coverings in certain indoor settings and on public transport will be lifted on Monday 21 March. From that point on, it will instead become guidance, although people will still be strongly recommended to wear one in the relevant settings.

Concerns

Most respondents believed that face coverings should remain a legal requirement as this provides extra protection to disabled people who are at high clinical risk. It was also noted that face coverings can help to stop the spread of other viruses such as the flu.

“One of my real disappointments with COVID is that wearing masks has been such a divisive topic and there has been such a resistance to them. I’ve not had a cold or the flu since wearing masks became commonplace. Couldn’t we please as a country start to respect others and wear masks when ill with colds and the flu as they do in Asian countries – there is an opportunity here to make life better for everyone on a long-term basis by maintaining hygiene levels. Living with COVID doesn’t mean throwing all the positive changes away but this appears to be the case.”

“I am so angry that these unnecessary changes are being made. It doesn’t kill people to wear a mask and keeping it as a legal requirement ensures maximum compliance especially with people coming to Scotland from other parts of the UK that have even fewer restrictions and represent a greater risk to public health here.”

“The removal of face coverings makes me nervous as when it was mandatory people disregarded social distancing measures and I feel if its lifted will be a free for all meaning the population will think that COVID has gone, and they can then do as they like.”

“I suffer from COPD and I am terrified of catching COVID which will be easier to catch with no one wearing masks.”

Continue Wearing Face Coverings

Some disabled people stated that they would continue to wear face coverings once legal requirements have been removed.

“As someone who shielded during the pandemic, I still have concerns about the virus and will continue to wear the face mask in situations like shopping and public transport for a while yet as I think it is too early to remove the COVID restrictions.”

“Many people don’t wear masks now but if I go out, I will definitely wear mine, even though I am exempt.”

“Glad advice to continue the use of masks will protect me and I’ll continue to carry one.”

Exemptions

One respondent stated that they are relieved face coverings will no longer remain a legal requirement, as they felt like they had to wear one despite being medically exempt.

“Will be a great relief to shop without a mask as I felt obliged to, even though exempted.”

Testing

The Scottish Government state that access to lateral flow and PCR tests will continue to be free of charge, ahead of a detailed transition plan being published on the future of Scotland’s test and protect programme in March 2022. A number of respondents stated the importance of available testing and for test kits to remain free of charge.

“I think Lateral Flow Tests should be free.”

“Good that tests will still be free, but in many areas, test kits are not available, so how can you test?”

“I’m glad the lateral flow tests will still be available free.”

“I am more comfortable with physical distancing being the norm and hope that all testing remains free.”

Self-Isolation

People who test positive for COVID-19 will continue to be asked to self-isolate to reduce the risk of infecting other people. The Scottish Government state that any changes to the recommended period of self-isolation will be considered on an ongoing basis. Most respondents believed that self-isolation should continue as a legal requirement to reduce transmission to others.

“If someone tests positive for COVID-19 they should be told, not asked to self-isolate. There will always be some people with the ‘I’ll be alright’ attitude’ and even if they develop some of the standard COVID symptoms, will still go into public places unmasked, not acknowledging (or not caring) that they could be passing it on to some people not able to fight it so strongly.”

“People should have to wear masks inside public buildings, and they should also have to self-isolate by law.”

“It should be a legal requirement to self-isolate otherwise some bosses will put pressure on workers to turn up for work in shops, factories, and offices (profit before health).”

Conclusion

A majority of respondents (66%), do not agree with the decision to remove legal COVID restrictions in Scotland. This is of particular concern for disabled people who are at high risk and apprehensive of going out in public. Some respondents believed that removing legal restrictions is necessary to gain some form of return to normality and boost the economy. However, this was contrasted by concerns from disabled people who believed that not all members of the public would follow public health guidance, such as wearing face coverings, once legal restrictions have been lifted. There was consensus amongst respondents that free testing and self-isolation should remain in place to help curb the spread of COVID-19.