COVID-19 has now reached every continent in the world except Antarctica, with 373 confirmed cases in the UK, as of 9am on March 10. 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 goverment-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 five ways you can support the most vulnerable people during the coronavirus outbreak.
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. Aside from shelves cleared of toilet roll, stockpiling has the potential to put more vulnerable groups at even more of a disadvantage. For those who can’t afford to fill their cupboards for months to come, and those already in self-isolation, it’s most helpful to just buy what you need.
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, tells me it’s 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 (fighting hunger and food waste in the UK).
Follow Health Advice
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’.
Help The Homeless
Crisis’ chief executive, Jon Sparkes, tells me: “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 chance to self-isolate.
Donating to homeless charities is a positive way to make a difference.
Check In With The Elderly
Age UK’s charity director, Caroline Abrahams, tells me that “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 and running errands for elderly people who have been advised to stay indoors can be really helpful. “Stay in touch 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.”