Isolating ourselves will help reduce the spread of coronavirus and save lives. It’s important and it’s a MUST. We know this. But with this guidance in place and a national effort to comply underway, what other issues, as a result of isolation and social distancing are surfacing or getting worse? What will have to be addressed when we finally come out of lockdown? Could the impact of the virus cost more lives than the virus itself? Let's take a look.
Experts in the field have warned that abusers and their partners having to self-isolate together at home may lead to an increase in abusive behaviour and violence due to the pressure cooker effect of being trapped indoors.
More than 25 organisations helping domestic violence victims have reported an increase in their caseload since the start of the UK’s coronavirus epidemic.
According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) about 4.2% of men and 7.9% of women suffered domestic abuse in England and Wales during 2018. This equates to about 685,000 male victims and 1,300,000 women. Murders related to domestic violence are already at a five year high.
With an even greater reduction in police resources and refuge beds at this time - two explanations for the high murder rate - there are fears the situation will get worse.
Helplines are busier than ever. A helpline for perpetrators of domestic abuse who are seeking help to change their behaviour has received 25% more calls as the COVID-19 lockdown continues. The Respect phone line, which provides confidential advice to perpetrators about violence and domestic abuse, had a 26.86% increase in calls in the week starting 30 March, compared with the week before.
The figures come as Refuge, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, reported a 120% increase in calls to its helpline, which provides advice and facilitates referrals to refuge accommodation.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned this week that there could be a rise in online child sexual abuse offences during the COVID-19 pandemic as it reveals its most recent intelligence shows there are at least 300,000 people in the UK who pose a sexual threat to children.
The figure, which comes from intelligence pre-dating the coronavirus outbreak, reflects a new assessment of the threat and is far higher than previous estimates. The NCA believes there are a minimum 300,000 individuals in the UK posing a sexual threat to children, either through physical contact abuse or online.
There are fears that some will be viewing isolation as an 'opportunity' to exploit and harm young people. Further, with schools shut, teachers and other professionals are not able to act as the ‘eyes and ears’ for social workers.
We discovered last week that chlamydia cases have skyrocketed as many get frisky in self-isolation. Doctors from Zava UK have revealed that online sales for chlamydia treatments have increased by 46% this week as people make the most of their time at home together. This increase in demand for testing kits suggests that many are practising unsafe sex – perhaps more often than usual.
We do know that condom factories that shut down because of coronavirus are reopening as a global shortage of condoms looms and condom factory employees have now been deemed essential workers as authorities grapple with a potential second crisis – a rise in unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. This is potentially a timebomb for sexual health services - and of course for the many people who will not be getting treatment or seeking out treatment at this time.
There are also problems ahead. On March 27, the world’s biggest producer of condoms said that coronavirus had already caused a shortfall of 100 million condoms due to the halt in production.
Linked to above, Coronvirus could see a rise in both wanted and unwanted pregnancies. Nine months from now we could see a baby boom and in the months during and after lockdown, a rise in terminations.
The coronavirus outbreak is "very likely" to lead to a rise in divorce rates according to a leading divorce lawyer.
Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia predicts the divorce rate will rise this year. This is because couples are being kept in self-isolation together and if their relationship was already vulnerable before the lockdown, or they are not used to spending time together for such long periods, they might make the decision to part when this is all over.
Peak times for divorce are usually after long exposure during the summer holidays and over Christmas but depending on when the lockdown will end we could see a spike in enquiries and applications outside of these usual peak times.
In addition, the legal profession has also been ‘inundated’ by divorced parents arguing over lockdown custody with some trying to get their former partners sent to jail for breaking existing custody arrangements. The impact on children as a result of parents 'at war' is starting to be seen, heard, and felt according to ChildLine.
The coronavirus crisis could cause a childhood obesity “double whammy” accounting a leading charity as supply chains are hit and hardship pushes families towards cheap, unhealthy food.
Bite Back 2030 - an anti-childhood obesity campaign - said the fallout from COVID-19 could exacerbate health inequalities between rich and poor families.
Families from a lower socioeconomic background already have higher obesity rates and it is feared that they will be hit hardest by lost income which is going to make purchasing healthy food more challenging. Reports suggest that many people are moving to unhealthy, low cost processed foods during the lockdown.
Not unexpected by this crisis is estimated to exacerbate mental ill-health. More than 80% of young people with a history of mental ill-health have said that their conditions have worsened since the coronavirus crisis began in the UK.
In a study by the mental health charity YoungMinds, 2,111 people aged under 25, who had a history of mental health needs, were asked how the pandemic had affected them. Of the 83% who said the pandemic had made their mental health worse, 32% said it had made it “much worse” and 51% said it had made it “a bit worse”.
The survey was carried out during a period of immense change, between 20 March, when UK schools were closed to most students, and 25 March, when further restrictive measures had been put in place.
But it is not just affecting young people or people with existing mental health issues. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to develop chronic health conditions or mental health problems in years to come according to leading experts. Disregarding the immediate impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) is warning that the longer-term economic fallout could have ‘persistent negative health effects’, ‘long after’ social distancing measures end.
Research published in March, by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, estimates that a 1% fall in employment could lead to around a 2% increase in chronic illnesses.
The briefing adds that, if employment were to fall by the same amount as it fell in the 12 months after the 2008 financial crisis, around 900,000 more people of working age would be predicted to suffer from a chronic health condition.
If this is true, an estimated 8% unemployment which is currently being muted by various institutes will be devastating.
Although too early to tell, authorities and charities are reporting an increase in suicide since the crisis began.
MPs were told last week by Sgt Simon Kempton, the operational lead for COVID-19 at the Police Federation of England and Wales, that Police officers have recorded early signs of an increase in suicides and attempted suicides during the lockdown.
Answering questions from the Labour MP Stephen Doughty about the impact of the crisis on the police response to mental health callouts, Kempton said: “There are very early indications of an increase in suicide attempts and suicides – far too early to say if that’s a real trend, but there are early indications of that”.
Charities helping people with addiction problems say they are worried clients may fall back into misuse during the coronavirus crisis.
Many groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous, have taken to online social platforms to keep in contact, but there are concerns about those who cannot or will not engage.
Alcohol consumption is up according to some retailers and it appears we are drinking more alcohol, according to the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) which conducted a study which found that many of us are turning to alcohol to ease stress or alleviate boredom during the lockdown.
There is also a fear that gamblers could struggle during the crisis as isolation leads them into addiction and debt. An NHS clinic has said that it is expecting a rise in referrals during the pandemic as people have more time on their hands, coupled with financial and job insecurity. Following the cancellation of sports, it is feared gamblers are turning to addictive online casinos.
This has not been the happiest of blogs to write, I will admit. But it has given me, and hopefully you, a real insight into the issues we are facing - and must try to mitigate - as we tackle this pandemic. It is sad to think that as we start to win the war on coronavirus, we will be left with the devastating consequences of a life lived in lockdown. We must try to minimise the impact now. We can't let this be our legacy.