LAST week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that as of next Monday, Scotland will move beyond Level 0 and will lift legal requirements around social distancing and the size of social gatherings. Whilst she stated that the move “will restore a substantial degree of normality”, she was quick to note that “declaring freedom from, or victory over, this virus” was in her view “premature”.

Meanwhile, the viewers of GB News were treated to a five-minute soliloquy by Neil Oliver where he stated he would “cheerfully risk catching Covid” in the name of personal freedom and went on to compare those who refuse to adhere to guidelines to those who fought in the Second World War.

Rightfully, these comments received an onslaught of backlash, with musician and political activist Billy Bragg taking to ­Facebook: “By seeking to dress his reckless individualism up in the uniform of those who served in the Second World War, Oliver has betrayed the sacrifices of that generation and shamed his own ­profession.”

READ MORE: Neil Oliver panned after saying he'd 'cheerfully risk catching Covid for freedom'

It is astonishing how a human could hold such deluded and selfish views, let alone feel confident enough to broadcast them publicly – albeit on a news channel which has already been deemed a flop of epic proportions.

His comments are a slap in the face to those have been impacted by the ­pandemic, and to those who have ­selflessly made sacrifices to protect the vulnerable. The comments are an insult to our youth who have had 18 months of their formative years taken away from them, to early career professionals who have had the trajectory of their careers damaged and to families who have lost loved ones and have been unable to mourn properly.

Whilst the announcement of Scotland easing remaining legal restrictions may come with relief and as positive step forward to some, it comes with intense anxiety for members of our society who are clinically vulnerable or who have chronic illness or who, through no fault of their own, cannot be vaccinated.

It is natural that our vulnerable ­people remain anxious about the impact of ­Covid, especially so when people like Neil Oliver are spreading messaging which is just downright dangerous. To our clinically vulnerable people, the personal freedom that Neil Oliver speaks of can equate to an actual death sentence.

Nobody’s freedom has been curtailed greater than those who were officially ­advised to shield or who shielded on their own accord due to their health ­conditions. As the rest of the country slowly begun to open back up, those shielding due to their clinical vulnerability often lived without any freedom what-so-ever. But according to the Covid-19 Shielding Programme Rapid Evaluation, in the period until ­August 31, 2020, only 15% of all Covid-19 deaths in Scotland occurred in the official shielding group.

The National: A man shielding. Credit: PA Media

A study carried out by the ­University of Glasgow involving over one ­million ­patients concluded that the shielding ­strategy only had a limited effect in ­preventing infections and deaths among those at risk of Covid-19 as it didn’t take into consideration enough vulnerable groups.

Only those at the highest risk, including people with severe respiratory conditions, pregnant women with significant heart disease, people with cancers and organ donor recipients, were advised to shield. Out of 1.3m people, more than 350,000 people were categorised by researchers at medium risk of Covid-19 but were not recommended to shield. The study also revealed that around 75% of deaths were among people with conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, who were categorised as moderate-risk and were not recommended to shield either.

People with long-term, incurable and ­debilitating illnesses such as chronic ­fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and chronic pain, were not considered as ­being clinically vulnerable. Though it has similar characteristics and symptoms, fibromyalgia isn’t classed as an autoimmune disorder.

But ask any sufferer of ­fibromyalgia how they’d feel if they caught even the common cold, let alone Covid-19 and they’d tell you that it would likely trigger a flare in their fibromyalgia that could, in turn, cause several months of debilitating neuropathic pain, extreme fatigue, sleep problems, headache and migraines, problems with memory and concentration, as well as joint and muscle pain.

Living with fibromyalgia, a ­common cold or flu is enough to cause ­inflammation and muscle pain bad enough for me to need a stint on crutches. But my ­conditions didn’t require me to shield, nor did they fast-track me to a ­vaccine. I rightfully waited until the rest of the 20-something’s were offered the vaccine but lived in constant fear of how unwell I’d become if I became infected with Covid.

At times my anxiety around socialising would cause me to withdraw socially and become isolated, which in turn didn’t do any favours for my own mental health. We must remember that youth does not equate to health. Over the course of the pandemic, I feel that the words “vulnerable” and “elderly” have been conflated and we often forget that sometimes young people are physically unwell too.

AFTER knee surgeries and during ­fibromyalgia flare-ups, I’d often use the Sunflower Lanyard, to signal to people that I had an invisible illness – mostly in airports and on public transport, where I might need a little bit of space and ­patience whilst walking in crowded busy areas. But now, the sunflower lanyards use and meaning has been swallowed up by the pandemic and is now more widely used to signal exemption of face mask ­status. But the official Hidden Disabilities Lanyard Sunflower site maintains that the Sunflower is “to demonstrate that a person has an invisible disability” and “is not here to demonstrate that a person is face covering exempt”.

The National:

It is surely of great relief to many that in Scotland face masks will still be required to be worn in indoor settings and will most likely be legally mandated “for some time to come”.

In her briefing, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also stated that “the harm the virus can do including through the impact of long Covid, shouldn’t be ­underestimated”.

The Scottish Health Survey estimated that in 2019, 35% of adults aged 16 and over lived with a long-term physical or mental health condition or illness. Whilst not all these adults will have been classed as extremely clinically vulnerable, it is very possible that developing long Covid, compounded by their underlying health issues, could be extremely detrimental to both their physical and mental health.

Many people describe long Covid as like having fibromyalgia, with sufferers presenting post viral symptoms including extreme fatigue, brain fog, insomnia, joint pain, nausea, headaches, muscle pain among others. Not nice at all.

Whilst I welcome the re-opening of ­society, we should all exercise great care and consideration for all parts of our society, including those who are a little anxious about the world getting back to “normal”. I invite Neil Oliver to step into the shoes of someone who has a chronic incurable debilitating illness which often renders them incapacitated, then he can talk about freedom means.