IT was 14 long weeks before the Barrett family could leave the safety of their home and garden.

The family were among more than two million shielding across the UK as lockdown measures were put in place.

With brothers Sam, seven, and Rory, five, both living with cystic fibrosis, they were among those who contracting coronavirus, combined with their condition, presented even more risks.

And while people were allowed out for daily exercise once a day, the Barrett family couldn’t risk the complications so all six of them shielded to keep the boys safe. Their condition is genetic affecting more than 10,500 people in the UK. People with cystic fibrosis experience a build-up of thick sticky mucus in the lungs, digestive system and other organs, causing a wide range of challenging symptoms affecting the entire body.

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Now as Scottish Government advice says shielding restrictions will come to an end on July 31, the family is preparing to ease back into every day life but with a certain amount of fear and intrepidation on what that will look like.

“When I think about the days before lockdown, I think the hardest bit at the start was not knowing what to do for the best as the boys were in primary one and three, but Sam’s twin Edith was in the same year and we could have ended up with one of them in school,” said Joanna Barrett. “We thought we were going to have to take them out when the decision was made to close schools.

“When the guidance came out for those who were shielding they said they could use private outdoor spaces and for us it has been a godsend. I don’t know how we would have managed if it hadn’t been for that. They hadn’t even been over the threshold for 14 weeks, but they have showed huge resilience and it has become normal for them. They had been learning about coronavirus at school and about handwashing so they were aware. They know they have cystic fibrosis and have to take medication and have physio. It is just part of their life and routine.”


The Barrett family have been shielding throughout lockdown

During the course of lockdown there have been a number of obstacles and emotional ups and downs which the Barretts have had to steer their way through.

Dad Christopher, 38, has been working throughout in his food manufacturing job and took precautions when coming home to change and shower before seeing the family. And when restrictions eased with grandparents being able to hug grand kids it was a bitter sweet moment.

Mrs Barrett, 37, from Hamilton, in South Lanarkshire, said: “It has been hard for them seeing what other kids could do and we had a situation where two of my children can hug their grandparents and the other two can’t so we have had to keep contact to a minimum.”

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As restrictions are eased and people are seen enjoying beer gardens and meeting family and with some parts of the UK moving out of lockdown faster, Mrs Barrett was concerned and daunted about the idea of relaxing shielding.

“I was really worried when I saw what was happening in England with regard to shielding and I was concerned that everyone who has been shielding would be treated the same, but everyone is different and has different conditions," she added.

“What has been reassuring for me is that the decisions in Scotland to come out of shielding is based on clinicians advice and the condition. I think it will be quite daunting for the boys when shielding ends. They haven’t been in big groups or seem extended family members and I think there will be a period of readjustment.”

And for the Barretts there won’t be a rush to jump on a plane instead they will be somewhat cautious about travel until 2021.

“It is looking like the boys will be able to go to school, although that is still to be confirmed, however we all know that schools are germ factories at the best of times with kids catching things so I am concerned about them going back. Also if we are to have a second wave and restrictions are imposed again, I don’t know how easy it would be for the boys to go through that again. One thing that could have been improved as the contact with children. Advice, understandably was aimed at parents, but when shielding letters came through it was meaningless to them as it seemed to refer to older adults. I think better communication with children could have been looked at, but they weren’t really addressed at all.

“I would say there is anxiety about going into crowded places and you do see other people as a risk. We certainly won’t be rushing to go on an aeroplane – I think that will be something we will leave until next year.”

For school teacher Kirsty Young the initial phases of lockdown brought fears and anxiety as she has cystic fibrosis. However, coming out of shielding brings similar feelings as it ends at a time when there is still no vaccine for the virus.

And there were times during lockdown when Ms Young felt those shielding were being “forgotten about.”

Ms Young, 30, said: “For me there was a lot of concern and anxiety going into lockdown. There was worries over how we would access food and medical treatment and until we knew there would be priority deliveries and my treatment would go ahead there was a massive concern. There was a sense of feeling forgotten about. Living with cystic fibrosis is a burden on daily life and more so under lockdown.

“I was medically suspended from my job the week before lockdown and I have been shielding ever since.”


Kirsty Young, who has cystic fibrosis, has been shielding

During lockdown Ms Young, who lives in Stirling, was due to receive treatment in hospital and while this still went ahead, she said there was anxiety surrounding the uncertainty of it all.

She added: “I had no idea what it was going to be like. I was escorted by a member of my team and doors were opened so I didn’t have to touch handles. It was very quiet, but I was glad to get home to continue my treatment.

“With cystic fibrosis my lung function is below 50% and last year I was hospitalised for five week with flu so the with idea of Covid you wouldn’t know how it would affect you or how you would be able to recover from it. You didn’t know who had it and who didn’t so there was many risks.”

Coming out of shielding doesn’t feel like a time to celebrate for Ms Young, but more a case of taking small steps with a certain amount of anxiety.

“I think it will be very daunting and my biggest fear is people in public places. In order to go out again I am going to have to put my trust in people and the government who say it is safe to go out. I think I will certainly be wearing a mask when I amount in public for some time.”

While measures were in place to help those shielding feel less isolated and have access to key services, Ms Young is concerned that these will come to a sudden end when the virus is still out there.

She added: “We don’t really know what will happen coming out of shielding. I am not exactly comfortable joining people in a queue for a supermarket. So we don’t know if there will still be priority shopping.”

While some people are looking to future and planning holidays both at home and abroad, Ms Young and her fiancé Chris who are due to be married next February, won’t be rushing into any travel plans.

“If anything having more people holidaying in Scotland and booking up Air B n Bs is a worry for me and I can’t see us planning anything this side of Christmas," she added. "I think given that it is one year out of my life, not doing things that might put me at risk doesn’t seem to be the biggest sacrifice.

“It has been hard for me and my whole family. I am an affectionate person and it has been hard not hugging people for all these weeks.

“My fiancé Chris has basically had to shield with me as well. We are due to be married next year. We are still hoping the wedding will go ahead in whatever way that may look like.”

Dr Keith Brownlee, Cystic Fibrosis Trust Director of Policy, Programmes & Support, said while changes to shielding are welcome for many, for others it raises concerns about how best to carry on with normal daily life safely, particularly going back to work or school.

He said: “People with cystic fibrosis will need to maintain physical distancing outside of their household and their employers must ensure they return to a COVID-safe working environment. As restrictions ease, it’s crucial there isn’t a cliff-edge of support and the Government in Scotland must continue to support vulnerable people.

“At the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, we’re doing all we can to support people with cystic fibrosis and their families by providing the most up-to-date guidance and through our helpline and grants, which are more in demand than ever. Help us continue being there for people with cystic fibrosis by donating to our coronavirus emergency appeal.”