Life in lockdown UK throws up armies of volunteers

Aditi Khanna

London, Mar 26 (PTI) The UK is on day three of its lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and as the message took a while to sink in, people are increasingly heeding the government's advice to “stay at home” with a sea of volunteers coming up with innovative ideas to deliver food and medicines and even interacting with the isolated over phone.

Beyond the stark numbers of those infected with COVID-19 rising to over 9,500 and the death toll hitting 465, there is a palpable sense of people fighting against the doom and gloom to keep spirits up amid the strict social distancing norms in place.

One of the heartening trends, which led to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressing his own “special thank you”, has been the over 500,000 volunteers who signed up within 24 hours of a government appeal to help the struggling state-funded National Health Service (NHS).

They are now being deployed for delivering food and medicines, driving patients to appointments and interacting with the isolated over the phone.

The scheme is aimed at relieving the immense pressure on the NHS, including community-based efforts from several diaspora groups.

“The more people that work together, the easier this burden of the crisis,” said a spokesperson for Sewa Day, one of the charity groups which has been helping with food donations and delivery.

Sikh charity Khalsa Aid has been undertaking similar efforts, including delivering hot food to NHS staff across over-capacity hospitals.

“We will continue to support our NHS heroes during the coronavirus emergency,” the charity said.

The government-imposed lockdown, aimed at getting a grip on patients needing medical attention in over-stretched hospitals, allows for one form of exercise a day and permits a trip to the local store for essentials, with those numbers being limited by marshals deployed at the entrance of all supermarkets.

Smaller shops licensed to sell alcohol alongside other essentials, referred to as cornershops in the UK, made the updated list of stores exempt from mass closures in the retail sector this week.

Many of these are run by Indian-origin owners and managers and have emerged as a hub of support for the local community.

“We are doing our best to stay stocked up and have even started a delivery service for the elderly in our area,” said an Indian-origin manager running a store in east London.

Another novel volunteering trend gaining momentum up and down the country includes running groups.

Many of these have transformed themselves from regular collective runners' meet-ups into a solo effort to double up as so-called “drug runners” and supply medicines to the elderly and vulnerable groups being put under a complete 12-week quarantine.

“We're proud to be able to help Bristol pharmacies with a COVID-19 support initiative that sees runners deliver prescriptions to the most vulnerable while keeping our community active too,” said one such mother's running group in the city of Bristol called This Mum Runs.

Social media channels are being used actively to seek out such innovative initiatives, with greater numbers joining in even as they follow the government's advice banning gatherings of more than two people and a minimum 2-metre stipulated distance between individuals.

There have even been calls against the use of the term “social distancing” as the outbreak unleashes a whole new set of ways of socially connecting.

While social distancing remains the official government advice, the experience within communities is proving quite effective to at least try and counter the social isolation being enforced to save lives. PTI AK RS RS