Older people suffering anxiety ahead of Covid-19 'Freedom Day'

Face mask sign

Removal of the legal requirement to wear masks is causing anxiety among older people in Suffolk - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Anxiety among older people and mental health impacts of Long Covid have been raised as areas of concern in Suffolk as Covid-19 restrictions ease from Monday on ‘Freedom Day’.

Suffolk Mind chief executive Jon Neal told Thursday’s Health and Wellbeing Board meeting of health and council officials that more and more organisations which worked with older people were reporting fresh anxieties among people around the opening up of restrictions.

“Lots of charities that are supporting elderly people in particular are reporting an awful lot of anxiety out there that has only started in the last few weeks,” he said.

“There has been lots of anxiety over the course of the pandemic of course, but over the last few weeks with talk of opening up and talk of masks no longer being mandatory in various places, lots of people are even more anxious now than they have been before.

"In Suffolk we have got a very elderly population so we have got more anxious people in that respect.”

Mr Neal encouraged Suffolk County Council to take a lead in its messaging to ease people’s fears, and encourage people to be responsible as restrictions eased.

He also urged people not to underestimate the effects of Long Covid on mental health and career prospects.

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“With the proportion of under 30s double vaccinated much lower, that is where the infection rates are higher, and we don’t really know much about Long Covid at the moment and the longer term impact of Long Covid,” he said.

“If we think about that age cohort, if they are out of the labour market for a period of time because of Long Covid or if they are affected and self esteem or confidence is affected because of Covid, that can have big long term impacts on their future career prospects and future lives.”

Public Health Suffolk director Stuart Keeble recognised anxiety was a big part of the restrictions easing, and being respectful of people’s space and fears was a part of its new “cautious, courteous and caring” mantra it urged people to follow.

July 19 has been dubbed Freedom Day for the level of restrictions that will be removed. Among those will be social distancing requirements, mandatory face mask wearing, and gathering numbers.

But people have been encouraged to be responsible, and continue wearing masks in enclosed spaces, continuing to wash hands regularly, and maintain a healthy distance where possible.