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Rallying cry to find 250K coronavirus heroes

HEALTH secretary Matt Hancock has called for 250,000 volunteers to assist with the national effort to tackle coronavirus, help the NHS and support the vulnerable.

He also announced that more than 35,000 extra NHS staff would be joining the fight against the virus, including retired doctors and nurses returning to the service and final year students joining the frontline.

Mr Hancock also confirmed during this evening’s public briefing that a temporary hospital — the NHS Nightingale hospital — would be opening at London’s Excel centre.

He spoke as the NHS released figures showing the number of people with Covid-19 who have died in the UK rose from 335 yesterday to 422 as of 1pm today.

Mr Hancock said: ‘Today we launch NHS volunteers.

‘We are seeking a quarter of a million volunteers, people in good health to help the NHS, for shopping, for the delivery of medicines and to support those who are shielding to protect their own health.’

Mr Hancock said 11,788 recently retired NHS staff had responded to the call to return to the service.

They included 2,660 doctors, more than 2,500 pharmacists and other staff and 6,147 nurses.

‘I pay tribute to each and every one of those who is returning to the NHS at its hour of need,’ Mr Hancock said.

Some 5,500 final-year medics and 18,700 final-year student nurses would ‘move to the frontline’ next week.

Mr Hancock urged people to come together to reduce the number of people in the UK who will die from the spread of Covid-19.

But he also issued a stark warning, saying stricter measures introduced by the prime minister yesterday were not advice but rules that must be followed.

He told MPs in the Commons: ‘The spread of coronavirus is rapidly accelerating across the world and in the UK.

‘The actions we took yesterday are not actions that any UK government would want to take but they are absolutely necessary.

‘Our instruction is simple: stay at home.’

Empty streets: Cyclists ride across Westminster Bridge in London

He said people should only be leaving their home for four reasons:

■ Shopping for essentials such as food and medicine, as infrequently as possible

■ One form of exercise per day

■ Medical need or to provide care to a vulnerable person

■ Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.

Grateful: A message thanking the National Health Service staff is shown on a screen at Bournemouth Pier

Mr Hancock said: ‘These measures are not advice, they are rules and will be enforced including by the police, with fines starting at £30 up to unlimited fines for non-compliance.’

He continued: ‘We are engaged in a great national effort to beat this virus. Everybody now has it in their power to save lives and protect the NHS.

‘Home is now the front line.

‘In this national effort, working together, we can defeat this disease, everyone has a part to play.’

Stay at home: A group of young men are spoken to by Kent Police officers before being dispersed from a children’s play area in Mote Park, Maidstone PICTURES: PA

His comments come as some trains on London’s Tube network were crowded again this morning, despite Boris Johnson placing the UK on a lockdown.

Last night, the prime minister ordered people only to leave their homes for ‘very limited purposes’, banned public gatherings of more than two people and ordered the closure of non-essential shops.

But police chiefs warned of phone lines being inundated with calls on Monday night with questions about what movements are still permitted, while MPs also called for answers.

Pictures on social media suggested that many people in the capital were continuing to use the Underground to travel around, prompting a desperate plea from London Mayor Sadiq Khan: ‘I cannot say this more strongly: we must stop all non-essential use of public transport now. Ignoring these rules means more lives lost.’

Nurse Julia Harris, who commutes to work at Imperial College NHS Trust, said she was worried about overcrowded trains, adding: ‘I worry for my health more on my commute than actually being in the hospital.’

It comes as:

■ For the first time, all the UK’s mobile networks are sending out a government message to their customers with details of the new shutdown.

■ Cabinet office minister Michael Gove was forced to backtrack after initially saying the children of separated parents should not move between households. He later clarified ‘it may be necessary’ for some children who are under 18 to move.

Alert: A text message from the Government telling the public to stay at home

■ Chancellor Rishi Sunak acknowledged it would not be possible to protect every job and save every business, but said the government was ‘looking at pace at what support’ can be given to the self-employed.

■ The government defended allowing construction work to continue despite the lockdown measures.

In an address to the nation from Downing Street yesterday, Mr Johnson urged people to stay at home.

He said: ‘You should not be meeting friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say no. You should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home.’

After the UK death toll hit 335, the PM ordered the immediate closure of non-essential stores, including those selling electronics and clothing.

The prime minister also ordered a ban on all public gatherings of more than two people — other than those they live with.

Other premises joining pubs and restaurants in being closed are libraries, playgrounds, outdoor gyms, places of worship and hotels.

Parks will remain open for exercise, but all social events including weddings and baptisms will be stopped. Funerals can continue.