Karen Morley is taking "baby steps" towards a normal life.

More than a year after Scotland scrapped free Covid tests, mandatory facemasks, and social distancing, the mother-of-two has only recently began venturing to the shops - and even then it is with extreme caution.

She said: "It would be somewhere like the [Glasgow] Fort, where it's open air, and I'll go first thing when they open when I know it's going to be quieter.

"I avoid weekends and go midweek, but if a shop's busy I won't go in.

"I'm very much still controlling my risk. I'm still masking."

Morley, from Cambuslang, was born with a congenital defect in her lymphatic system that is so rare she was only the 36th person in the world to be diagnosed.

The condition is so unusual it doesn't even have a name, but it does mean that a simple chest infection could be deadly.

The Herald: Covid rates reached a record high in March 2022 and have remained higher than at any previous point in the pandemic surveillanceCovid rates reached a record high in March 2022 and have remained higher than at any previous point in the pandemic surveillance (Image: PHS/ONS)

It has been nine months since her last Covid vaccination and while her consultants in London insist that she should have received a Spring booster this year, confusion over her illness means she was not included by her health board on the severely immunocompromised list.

Nor is she eligible for antivirals.

"Nobody really understands the condition, so it makes it a bit difficult," said Morley.

"There is going to be communication from London to my GP who has said that they will follow that up and try to get me put into the correct cohort."

BIG READ: Masks, ventilation, data - why have we given up on Covid?

In the meantime, the 44-year-old accounts administrator who lives with her husband and children - aged 18 and 15 - tries to limit her risk of exposure by using portable Hepa filters, high-grade masks, and home-working.

She keeps a supply of lateral flow kits, and asks friends and family to test before meeting up.

The family's first holiday since the pandemic was spent at a self-catering cottage "in the middle of nowhere" which had been ventilated before they arrived.

The Herald: Karen Morley continues to severely restrict her activities to avoid exposure to CovidKaren Morley continues to severely restrict her activities to avoid exposure to Covid (Image: collect)

Her daughter also chooses to continue masking at school, something that has resulted in abuse.

"She's had people throwing things at her at lunchtime, shouting at her 'Covid's over' and coughing in her face," said Morley.

For tens of thousands of clinically vulnerable people across the UK, the past year has been about avoiding Covid - not "living with" it.

As restrictions were rolled back, case rates in Scotland climbed to record levels and remained there - peaking at one in 11, but never dipping below one in 55.

As recently as March - when official surveillance stopped - it remained at one in 40.

Like many others, Morley feels "left behind and forgotten about" as society has embraced a post-pandemic world where Covid reinfections are the norm and vaccines are relied on to reduce the impact in terms of hospitalisation and death.

"I have encountered people who think it's gone," said Morley, adding that she is "very nervous" about her company's plans to force all employees back into the office on a regular basis from January.

In November last year - just six weeks after a Covid booster jag - Morley contracted the infection for the first time, and was sick for 16 days.

She said: "I had prepared for the worst - in my head, I had it being the worst thing ever, that I would be in hospital, and it wasn't as bad as that."

READ MORE: Glasgow vaccine study - a new normal for the immunocompromised?

Despite that brush with the virus, she does not feel reassured to push her luck.

"My concern now is that I'm so far post-vaccine, and knowing that I should have had one I'm a bit apprehensive.

"I'm more reluctant to push myself that bit more."

Last week, a group of healthcare workers wrote to the Scottish Government calling for the "immediate" rollout of FFP2/3 masks to frontline health and care staff and a commitment to improving ventilation and air filtration in hospitals "as a matter of urgency", comparing the current situation for patients to "Russian roulette".

The Herald: Hannah Hassan said her life is 'unrecognisable' now to 2019Hannah Hassan said her life is 'unrecognisable' now to 2019 (Image: collect)

The Scottish Government insists that the withdrawal in May of mask guidance for hospitals and care homes is "proportionate" for a "calmer phase of the pandemic".

For critics, it is more evidence that society is splintering along a faultline of those who still want Covid protections, and a majority who seem content to ignore it.

"People don't want to know - they're so desperate to move on,"said Hannah Hassan, a Type 1 diabetic from Edinburgh.

"It's like a grief you can't talk about because nobody understands how much you've lost to be living this way."

Hassan, 27, developed diabetes in 2016 as a consequence of a severe viral infection.

The experience motivated her to take Covid seriously when it came, but she says her life today is "unrecognisable" to what it was in 2019.

READ MORE: Thousands still 'in lockdown' amid row over Covid drug Evusheld

As well as losing friends and giving up her job in hospitality to work at home as a call centre call handler, she dropped out of Edinburgh University - where she had began a degree in sociology in 2021 - because she was not allowed to study from home.

Hassan, who lives with her mother, said: "I take every precaution that is available to me: I wear high quality FFP3 masks, I opt for outdoor options, I test, I have air purifiers at home and a portable one that I use for unavoidable indoor things, like appointments.

"What I'm worried about is that a Covid infection can damage your vascular health - your blood vessels - and that's exactly what Type 1 diabetes does.

"If I get Covid - especially if I get it multiple times - then my long term health is going to suffer and I probably will have diabetic complications.

"But when I speak to people, they don't want me to be protected - they just want me to take the risk."

Statistics show that people with diabetes are more likely to be hospitalised or die from Covid, though this is reduced by vaccines.

However, Hassan - who is fully vaccinated - wishes people would "move away from the idea that that's the only risk".

In particular, she is concerned that people are being "sacrificed" to long Covid and the cumulative harms of repeat infections, which some studies suggest increase the chances of heart damage, diabetes, or neurological ailments.

The Herald: Use of facemasks y the public in Scotland dropped dramatically after they switched from compulsory to guidanceUse of facemasks y the public in Scotland dropped dramatically after they switched from compulsory to guidance (Image: ScotGovt)

READ MORE: What's the problem with Covid reinfections? 

Hassan would like to see minimum standards for clean air indoors and widespread use of high-grade facemasks.

She said: "We have so much research now about what even a mild dose of Covid can do to people's bodies to affect their long term health, but everyone is burying their head the sand.

"I'm extremely sad and my mental health has taken a huge whack because of this.

"I just don't know how my lifestyle can ever change unless the Government take responsibility and allow people to have safer environments."

In Dundee, Teresa Clarke and her son, Paul, have been shielding continuously since February 2020.

Paul, 22, was born with multiple co-morbidities affecting his heart and lungs which means he is unable to filter out any germs, dust or toxins from the air when he breathes.

As a result he is considered clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) and receives a Covid booster jag every six months. 

"Anything that is airborne is a threat to him," said Clarke, 58, who is her son's full-time carer.

"There was a time when we were visiting family in Hawaii and a volcano was going off.

"For several weeks he had to stay in his room with the windows closed, a wet towel under the door, and a respirator on his face to keep him from the sulphur fumes."

The Herald: Paul Clarke was previously hospitalised for months with a non-Covid coronavirus (*stock photo)Paul Clarke was previously hospitalised for months with a non-Covid coronavirus (*stock photo) (Image: PA)

As a baby Paul was hospitalised for three months with flu and, before the Covid pandemic, fell ill with a different coronavirus - the only known case in Scotland at the time - which resulted in a two month stay in hospital.

"That was nothing compared to what this is," said Clarke. "A common cold would put him in the hospital."

Over the past year, the mother and son have "ventured out a little more", including trips to the supermarket in off-peak hours. 

However, their pre-pandemic monthly "ritual" of cinema trips remains on hold, and they otherwise remain in de facto lockdown.

At home, giant Hepa filters - the size normally used to clean a whole house - run in both their bedrooms. 

When she goes out, Clarke wears a high-grade mask and keeps a supply of lateral flow kits on hand to test at the "first sign of a sniffle". 

So far, both have remained Covid-free, but Clarke cannot imagine "an end to this" unless current vaccines are replaced by ones which actually block transmission - something that is being trialled in the form of nasal sprays. 

READ MORE: As new booster rolled out - where next for Covid vaccines?

Clarke said: "Not one of Paul's specialists has said it's time to stop shielding.

"He needs to be hospitalised soon for some respiratory tests, and they are still trying to figure out how to do that safely so that he doesn't come out of the hospital with Covid."

She says the world simply "gave up" fighting. 

"The only way to move forward with the economy was to make Covid 'go away'."