A-Z

Covid-19 in the community

Perception of risk related to health and age

From the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it appeared that older people and those with underlying health problems were at increased risk of severe illness. In this section, we explore people worries about getting Covid, depending on their underlying health and age. We also include the reflections of people we spoke to who were not so concerned for themselves, but for others, such as family members and friends, who they saw as vulnerable.

Topics covered in this section are:

  • Feeling (or not feeling) worried for oneself
  • Feeling worried about others
  • Making sense of unexpected outcomes

Feeling (or not feeling) worried for oneself

Even before Covid vaccine became available, several people we spoke to had not been too worried about getting covid themselves. For Sue, Karin, Tun, Laszlo and Sam this was because they considered themselves ‘young, healthy, without any pre-existing conditions’. In fact, Sam remarked that the more time passed without catching it, the less vulnerable she felt. Many people felt that even if they caught Covid it would be manageable.
 

 

The longer Sam stayed Covid-free, the more she felt she might not catch it.

The longer Sam stayed Covid-free, the more she felt she might not catch it.

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We’d say we were immune or invulnerable to it because we could going out into risky situations, to bars and things like, you know, following the rules and stuff but, when you’re out, people are drinking and you’re in those kind of environments, you feel less susceptible and this feels less dangerous and you just a lot of time, people might get closer to you than you’re supposed to get closer to and then buildings aren’t ventilated like you think they should, you know, you know they should be. And each of those times I went out in the summer and in the well, late spring here every time I went out, I didn’t catch it so I felt particularly, I felt invulnerable. Well, felt less susceptible to it than I it turned out I was.

 

Karin felt she’d be fine if she got Covid.

Karin felt she’d be fine if she got Covid.

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Yeah I wasn’t so worried myself because I don’t have any underlying, you know, illnesses, well I mean I didn’t know that, that wasn’t really the fact you could still actually get it even through you didn’t have, I mean get it bad and also that I was quite young, I’m 53 now I was 52 when it happened, and I felt, you know, I can handle this I’ve been, I’ve had flu before and I’ve had this and that and yeah I felt strong. So no I wasn’t worried.


 
We also spoke with some people who were older and/or had existing health conditions but were still not too anxious about catching Covid. For example, Paul and Tony K, both in their 60s, felt that they led quite healthy lives and had a lower risk of getting severely ill.
 
 

Tony X has lived with Type 2 diabetes for several years but felt that his healthy lifestyle minimised his risk.

Tony X has lived with Type 2 diabetes for several years but felt that his healthy lifestyle minimised his risk.

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I take no medication. I’ve never done because of the physical activity and diet and lifestyle that I lead with my family. We eat very healthily. So, this is why the doctor said my immune system was not compromised. I don’t do fast food. I don’t do junk food. We eat freshly every day. We don’t do fry ups. We boil, we bake, we steam, we grill and we roast in our household. I do a range of physical activities such as Pilates, yoga, Zumba.


 
We also spoke with people who were more uneasy about catching Covid. For example, Sindhu has a lung condition and her family were worried about her. She felt that catching Covid was inevitable because her husband is a doctor working in Covid wards. Dawn has diabetes and works in a school. Although her diabetes was under control, being in school environment meant her exposure was higher, making her feel more vulnerable. Razia, who was pregnant, struggled to find information about what the risks from covid were for her and her baby.
 
 

Dawn, a school teacher, felt for her it was never ‘if you get Covid, but when you get Covid’.

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Dawn, a school teacher, felt for her it was never ‘if you get Covid, but when you get Covid’.

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To be honest, I am quite well controlled at the moment. I’ve lost seven stone within the last probably four years. So I am probably fitter than I’ve been in a very long time. So there are people with diabetes who probably were at higher risk than me but, in my job role, I feel like my risk was higher. So, for example, if I had diabetes and I worked in an office with twelve people, then I understand that. That, you know, you can socially distance a little bit more. You can stop as much contact with as many people but, in my job role, my risk was no less because I was in with, I was in the thick of it I mean with, like I said previously, thirty five children plus all their families plus all their siblings. So my risk was very high and I was, it was never, if you get Covid. It was when you get Covid. It was, I felt there was never going to be an option for me in my job role.

 

Razia could not find any information about Covid during pregnancy.

Razia could not find any information about Covid during pregnancy.

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And how I looked at it is, you couldn’t find, I couldn’t find the answer to a lot of questions online because that was the only place I could look. The health visitors don’t know. The specialists at the hospital didn’t know. The midwives couldn’t tell me so you, I always, you know, I even did everything, you know. And I didn’t know so then I’d look online saying is it more risky for me as a pregnant lady? Is my child, if I get it now, is my child going to born with it?

 

 
Feeling worried about others

Several people told us that they feared for their loved ones: for most people, this was their parents and other older relatives and friends. People told us how difficult it was to maintain caring relationships with the constant fear of passing on Covid to the people they were trying to protect. Iqra recalled becoming quite unpopular among her relatives, who had recently recovered from Covid, when she banned them from visiting her parents. Samena remembers being ‘terrified’ for her parents throughout the pandemic. Her ‘worst nightmare’ came true when first she tested positive, and then her mother also tested positive.

 

Ayny convinced both her parents to leave their public-facing jobs to reduce their risk of catching Covid.

Ayny convinced both her parents to leave their public-facing jobs to reduce their risk of catching Covid.

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My brothers had recently had a, they got married and had a Covid wedding [laughs]. They just drove down, picked their wives up, the wives moved in, and we had a virtual wedding, and we were sat there, and my mum would keep going, “Oh it doesn't matter if you know, got yourself tested. Let’s create a bubble and what have you.” And we kept reinforcing the fact that mum and dad you’re Asian, you’re diabetic. All of the risks and risks under the sun absolutely convinced mum to leave her job. Convinced dad to leave his job. Again, we were more interested in their life than anything else. So, both mum and dad, actually yeah, for that reason came out. My dad is a imam, one of the muftis so he is a huge public figure and lots of the community were depending on him.

 

Samena cooked and cleaned for her parents who were shielding due to health problems. She was terrified when her mum went to hospital.

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Samena cooked and cleaned for her parents who were shielding due to health problems. She was terrified when her mum went to hospital.

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So I think when we found out we’d tested positive my initial thought wasn’t even about myself or even my husband I think my mind went straight to my mum and dad and I thought I’d been meeting my mum and dad and having to go in and, you know, clean up for them or cook for them I was absolutely terrified what’s gonna happen and my mum kept reassuring me that she was absolutely fine, she came out with symptoms a day or two afterwards and it was that fear that through the whole pandemic I was terrified of that moment and that moment had to come true. So I think it was my worst nightmare was actually happening in front of me and then when she got taken into hospital and they kept, she was kept in that again was absolutely frightening for me because you hear stories of people catching it and when they go into hospital they just never return.


 
Quite often people would tell us they felt guilty about potentially passing on Covid to someone more vulnerable. As Miura describes below, this was especially the case when clinically vulnerable people were shielding, as there was an even greater sense of responsibility about not taking Covid infection to them.
 
 

Beth was worried about getting Covid and then passing it on to people she loved.

Beth was worried about getting Covid and then passing it on to people she loved.

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Myself personally I wasn’t, I wasn’t worried by it because I don’t really have any health problems that you know, could that would affect it really. But I was worried for like people like my nan and my best friend she’s very vulnerable. So people that, it wasn’t so much me getting it, it was me getting it and not knowing I had it and then passing it to all these people without knowing. That was what was more scary than the actual me getting it. Because I mean I couldn’t really, it doesn’t really matter, if I got it I got it, it wouldn’t really have affected me but my mum, she’s got lots of health problems, my nan, so does my best friend, and I see them pretty much every day. So it was very hard for me to sort of come to terms with the fact that yes, fair enough if I got it, but then if I got it I couldn’t go anywhere because I didn’t want anyone else to catch it.

 

 

Miura felt nervous that she might infect the people in her care.

Miura felt nervous that she might infect the people in her care.

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You don’t know with our service users because also like they were isolated. All of them were in their shielding and we are the only person who go in and out of the service. And we are the one who brought Covid. It’s not him. They did not leave, you know. You feel that sense of guilt as well [sighs]. Ahh dear.

 

Cat had visited her family just before she got Covid and felt relieved when they were not infected.

Cat had visited her family just before she got Covid and felt relieved when they were not infected.

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I was worried about my family, because I had also managed to see them in between those two dates. I saw them in the middle of the week, and I actually hugged, I think my mum, or [stepdad], and they actually didn’t get it, which is kind of miraculous in hindsight. But once I realised that I probably had it, I was obviously racked with guilt because, my mum’s pretty fit and healthy, I was worried about [name], my sister who is 9. And even though I knew intellectually that, you know, children weren’t at that point, didn’t seem to be getting it that badly, I was also really concerned about [name] my stepdad, because he had cancer not that long ago, he had that in 2016. And I didn’t really know what state his immune system was in, and I was really, really concerned that I had put them in danger of getting it and getting it badly.


 
The risk of serious illness from Covid has generally been lower for children, compared to older and frailer people. Genevieve, a microbiologist and mother of two, found comfort from the fact it was affecting children less. However, this was not so for parents whose children had underlying health conditions, like Nargis, Haliza and Jaswinder whose children have asthma. Nargis was so worried about her son that she did not let him go out for three months during the first lockdown in 2020.
 
 

Genevieve wasn’t sure if she had symptoms of breathlessness or whether she was anxious.

Genevieve wasn’t sure if she had symptoms of breathlessness or whether she was anxious.

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Just as we were prepared to do this actually so that was the weekend and then the Monday after that, we all felt slightly unwell and initially, so that was mid-March I think or the week, just a week before lockdown was announced, the first lockdown and it felt really sort of strange because the symptoms were what you might describe for anxiety attacks so, you know, short of breath and a bit tired but I wasn’t very unwell, I had maybe a ti-, tiny fever but not, not very much. It was mostly this sort of short of breath and I was like, ‘But am I just really anxious?’ I’ve been anxious for three months now, is it just me being over the top and but my husband was more unwell, he had more like flu-type syndrome, symptoms and, and this sort of made it clear to us that it wasn’t just anxiety, it was something real.

 

Nargis did not let her son out of the house for three months because he has asthma.

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Nargis did not let her son out of the house for three months because he has asthma.

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First lockdown, did you feel vulnerable? Did you feel at risk, you know, back then?  

More than myself, I was concerned for my son because he is asthmatic and that, to me, it was, you know, please, I’d say to my husband, wash, make sure he was really careful and then I was really careful and, in the first lockdown, I wouldn’t allow him out even for exercise, my son. I was that scared. So that’s why I keep on saying it’s scary, not for me, but for him. I was concerned for his health. For three months, I didn’t allow him out-out at all.


 
When vaccines became available in 2021, it offered relief to many people we spoke to. However, children were not eligible to receive them, and this worried a few parents. Pooja, who was already worried for her husband, who lives a liver condition, and her parents, was also conscious about her children being at risk.
 
 

Pooja felt her children had less immunity as they were not vaccinated.

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Pooja felt her children had less immunity as they were not vaccinated.

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My fifteen year old and my eight year old aren’t immune. I’m not immune but I, you know, they are not protected. They don’t have any type of protection right now because they’re not vaccinated.

 

Making sense of unexpected outcomes

Some people we spoke to talked about unexpected outcomes. For example, Mudasar, Goutam, Laszlo, and Tun who had always considered themselves fit and healthy, became quite sick with covid. Three of them had needed urgent hospital admission in intensive care for several weeks.

 

A regular long-distance runner, Goutam was shocked and frightened when he became sick enough to need hospital admission.

A regular long-distance runner, Goutam was shocked and frightened when he became sick enough to need hospital admission.

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So I was really concerned at that time but the pain of the, that was like you know, started giving me grief when I really, the first time I thought something it’s not really right is when I struggled as I said, when I struggled from going from the bed to the toilet I was really needing the loo and I could, all I could do was ask for a bottle I said like [name] I can’t move and that’s when I thought like “my god like two days back I was running and why can I not walk from this bedroom to the loo and how is it that difficult”. So that, that’s when I started a little bit of like, you know, so like what is this like Covid like, you know, why is it really so bad now. And so that, I think that’s when the first I think I had a bit of fear.

 

Laszlo, an intensive care unit nurse, described that his illness was a wakeup call to many of his colleagues.

Laszlo, an intensive care unit nurse, described that his illness was a wakeup call to many of his colleagues.

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One of the changes that they have done in the department was we had a so called red zone and blue zone. So red zone was where all the Covid positive patients were admitted, and the blue zone was where the one which were likely to be negative. And I can remember it was a struggle within the team very often when they put you into the red zone, so I know that many, many people were very frightened to, frightened to work in the red zone. And very often I said, “I don’t mind.” Just as I said, why should I be afraid? I’m wearing the PPE. I’m relatively young so this is going to be likely to affect those people who have a pre-existing medical condition, they are old and so on and so on. So, we had these pre-conceptions about this whole disease, about this whole virus. And I think, and this was the feedback I had received from most of my colleagues, they said, “Up until, Laszlo you got sick, we didn’t thought that this pandemic can get so serious. That was that was the tipping point for us to believe that this can happen to anyone. No one is completely safe no one can say that I am immune to this and that was the moment when we took things more seriously. So, I think even my story in this sort of way made a big change in the culture in the department and in the whole hospital.


 
Dawn’s daughter has Addison’s disease, which compromises her immune system. She stayed Covid-free even when everyone else in the family became quite unwell. Some people we spoke to were confused about how Covid affected people differently. When entire households or social groups got infected, the symptoms of covid were different and sometimes completely unexpected: those assumed to be most vulnerable got mild symptoms, while others got serious symptoms. For example, Mudasar was very sick with covid, while his elderly father was fine. See ‘Living through and recovering from Covid symptoms’ for more information.
 
 

Different members of Gulsoom’s family experienced different Covid symptoms.

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Different members of Gulsoom’s family experienced different Covid symptoms.

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I personally think it depends on how your body reacts to Covid because everyone has a different immune system so, with my youngest sister, she’s got certain health problems, so her Covid might only have lasted a short period of time but her symptoms were so severe that we had to rush her to hospital. So and then certain siblings, we thought would have a weakened immune system, didn’t show no symptoms or no signs of Covid, apart from a slight temperature and maybe a bit of a headache. So every sibling, every sibling or family member that got Covid, we were shocked with how their body reacted to Covid. I actually thought I wasn’t going to be as bad as I was. I think my family and myself are very shocked because I’m very proactive. I used to go to the gym. I’m always walking and I’m always active so, when Covid hit me, I was one of the worst with the symptoms.

 

Abdul was shocked when his fit, young nephew died from Covid.

Abdul was shocked when his fit, young nephew died from Covid.

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He was he was like 19, quite young, he’d come to visit the house like two, three weeks beforehand as well, to see my daughter and it was just a huge, huge shock for us. not just because of the fact that he passed away, but he was just a very young person, and just he him himself he was just, he’s like 6 foot tall, he played rugby every week, he was like a body builder, and it was just a very, very, yeah, complete shock. It just made us all a bit wary.

 

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