How To Help The Most Vulnerable People In The UK During The Coronavirus Outbreak

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COVID-19 has now reached every continent in the world except Antarctica, with 1,391 confirmed cases in the UK, as of 12 p.m. on March 16. So, who are the most vulnerable groups to be affected by the coronavirus? According to the World Health Organisation, the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart and respiratory problems, and diabetes) are most at risk of developing more severe symptoms if they contract the COVID-19 virus.

While developments are ongoing, the Department of Health and Social Care says that for most people – especially those who are young and healthy – the virus shouldn't be life-threatening. England's deputy chief medical officer, Dr Jenny Harries, told the BBC that the majority of those diagnosed in Britain are "pretty well", but that they may "feel a bit rough for a few days". Initially COVID-19 presents similar symptoms to cold and flu; and the advice is to self-isolate if you have symptoms, or have recently travelled to the list of UK government-specified countries and areas (which currently includes China, Korea, Italy and Iran).

But self-isolation can have knock-on economic consequences, especially for society's more vulnerable groups. As the BBC reports, not everyone will receive statutory sick pay – in some cases it will fall to the moral responsibility of your employer. Meanwhile, for those who are self-employed or on zero-hour contracts, time off work might not be financially possible. And if schools across the country close, this will impact families – The Guardian reports that those living in poverty and single-parent households could be hit the worst, especially those without childcare backup or paid parental leave.

For those less at risk and looking to help, here are six ways you can support the most vulnerable people during the coronavirus outbreak.

1. Stop Stockpiling

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The UK is currently seeing an increase in stockpiling and panic buying. The BBC references a study by Retail Economics, which suggests that one in 10 Brits are now stockpiling, leading to several supermarkets putting sales restrictions on in-demand items like hand sanitiser.

There is, however, no need to panic. Stockpiling has the potential to put vulnerable groups at even more of a disadvantage. Many people can't afford to fill their cupboards for months to come or are not able to travel to different supermarkets in search of products, so shop sensibly to ensure everyone has access to the products they need.

2. Support Food Charities

If schools close, those who rely on free meals will need extra help.

Feeding Britain, an organisation working to end hunger in the UK, is in contact with the Department for Education “about the need for contingency plans to safeguard the continuation of free meals in the event of school closures." The charity is also “reviewing the emergency resources that can be made available to regional partners.”

The best way to help is by donating to your local food bank, or direct to charities like Feeding Britain and Fare Share which fights hunger and food waste in the UK.

3. Follow Health Advice

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If you don't fall into one of the more at-risk or vulnerable groups, you can still help to stop the spread of coronavirus by following health advice. It’s really important to wash your hands, sneeze or cough into a tissue (and then put it in the bin), avoid touching your face with unwashed hands and stay out of close contact with anyone who's unwell.

One user on Twitter has listed songs you can hum to make sure you’re reaching at least 20 seconds of hand-washing time, including the chorus of Beyoncé’s ‘Love on Top’.

4. Help The Homeless

Crisis' chief executive, Jon Sparkes, says: “People sleeping rough are particularly vulnerable. They are more likely to have a range of existing health conditions and face specific challenges, in that they may be unable to regularly wash their hands, nor can they self-isolate if they feel unwell.”

Homeless charities are calling for local services to put contingency plans in place, including emergency accommodation, to give homeless people the ability to self-isolate.

Donating to homeless charities is a positive way to make a difference during this uncertain time.

5. Check In With The Elderly

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Age UK's charity director, Caroline Abrahams, tells Bustle: “it is more important than ever to be vigilant and look out for older friends, neighbours and relatives to make sure they’re okay.”

Going food shopping or running errands for elderly people who have been advised to stay indoors can be really helpful. “Stay in touch [with them] over the phone or online,” Abrahams advises. “If you or they have any concerns about their health, or need more information about coronavirus, call NHS 111 or visit the NHS website.”

One of the groups most affected by stockpiling are the elderly, who often cannot get to the shops during busy times and are facing long delays on food deliveries. One of the first supermarkets to introduce measures to help over 70s and disabled people get what they need is Sainsbury’s. Chief executive Mike Coupe announced on Wednesday that, starting Thursday March 19., the stores will only be open to those in at-risk groups for the first hour of trading. Frozen food store Iceland is also introducing reserved time slots to help the elderly and vulnerable shop in store. If you are unable to go to the shops on their behalf, you can help any elderly and/or vulnerable people you know by finding out if their local store is putting in place special measures to assist with their shopping and letting them know.

6. Volunteer With A Local Mutual Aid Group

Hundreds of community groups have emerged across the country pledging to help the most vulnerable people in their towns and local areas during the outbreak. Organisers of these groups — run entirely by volunteers and non-medical professionals — are delivering food for those self-isolating, providing advice for those struggling financially and helping centralise resources from town-to-town.

While social-distancing and self-isolation means limited contact, volunteers have set-up “WhatsApp and Facebook groups and are holding meetings online alongside distributing flyers in the street’, reports The Guardian. Some selfless volunteers are offering friendly phone-calls to those feeling lonely.

The Guardian reported 87 Mutual Aid Groups across the country on Saturday 14 March, this number has now risen to over 600. You can find the growing list of Mutual Aid Groups on the Covid-19 Mutual Aid website.

If you or someone you’ve been in close contact with appears to have shown or be showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, visit the NHS website in the UK to find out the next steps you should take or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.

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