A GRASSROOTS army of volunteers has sprung into action to help vulnerable neighbours as concern mounts over the spread of coronavirus.
Amid criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis, hundreds of ‘mutual aid’ groups have taken matters into their own hands by organising local networks to help out with errands, shopping and providing food parcels for those most in need.
The surge in community spirit comes after health secretary Matt Hancock warned that all those aged over 70 could soon be ordered to stay indoors for up to four months as the country is placed on a war footing.
People without symptoms would still be able to visit older relatives and friends as long as they did not come within 6ft of them.
The government has also pleaded with hospital ventilator makers to step up production amid fears the country does not have enough to cope with expected demand.
The UK death toll from the virus climbed to 35 yesterday, with 1,372 people confirmed to have been infected, as panic-buying and hoarding has gripped most of the country.
Hundreds of online groups have been set up to offer support, alongside action from established community groups, while thousands of acts of individual kindness have been flooding social networking websites such as Facebook and Nextdoor. Volunteers have also been distributing leaflets and posters to ensure no-one is left cut off.
Becky Wass, from Falmouth, Cornwall, came up with the idea of popping postcards through neighbours’ letterboxes to ask if they need help with shopping, posting mail or just wanted a chat on the phone. The template has since been shared by thousands of people on Twitter using the hashtag #viralkindness.
A list compiled by Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK yesterday showed there were more than 300 dedicated community groups co-ordinating relief efforts on Facebook alone. In Tyneside, more than 2,000 helpers signed up to a group in days. And in Brighton, a network set up by lecturer Andrea Brock and friend Daniel Therkelsen saw more than 600 people join in less than 24 hours.
Dr Brock, 33, said: ‘I think it’s a good example that shows that we can’t rely on government in times of crisis, we need to look after each other and have solidarity with each other, particularly with those who are most vulnerable.’
Single mum Holly Woollard recruited more than 600 volunteers after launching two Facebook groups from her houseboat, in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, where she is quarantined after coming into contact with an infected person.
The 32-year-old said: ‘I was overwhelmed. Race, gender, ability, social class — none of that seemed to matter. Everybody just wanted to help. It has really restored my faith in humanity.’
Coronavirus: What you need to know
How do you catch it?
From a sufferer who coughs or sneezes near you or from close contact with a sick person.
Not washing your hands regularly and touching your face after contact with unclean surfaces also raises the risk.
What are the symptoms?
A high temperature and a new, continuous cough. Sufferers can also experience other flu or cold-like symptoms, such as muscle aches.
What should I do if I think I have it?
Stay at home and self-isolate — do not rush to hospital or your surgery. Visit 111.nhs.uk/covid-19 for the latest advice.
If you have virus symptoms but feel well enough to do most of your usual daily home activities, including things like watching TV, reading and getting out of bed, you do not need to contact the NHS or any health officials.
Remain indoors; if there is no improvement after seven days, call 111. If you have symptoms and feel so ill you are unable to carry out normal activities, you should call 111 immediately.
How do I know if I have it?
The only sure way is an NHS test. The government is prioritising testing for ‘those most at risk of severe illness from the virus’.
How do I reduce my risks?
Good personal hygiene. Wash your hands regularly with soap for at least 20 seconds. Use a hand sanitiser as an alternative. Cover your mouth with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing. Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
Social distancing — maintain a distance of at least three feet from anyone who is coughing.
How worried should I be?
About 80 per cent of patients experience only mild illness, the World Health Organization says.