I will take every opportunity to update constituents and reassure them that procedures are in place and new measures are being considered as the situation changes. The most important actions that can be taken are our own. The following update will attempt to address issues of concern but specific comments or amateur virology is not helpful or needed.
- COVID-19: What is it?
- Personal responsibility
- Home working and emails
- School closures
- Older people
- Barnet Council and volunteering
- Support for business
- Support for the self-employed
- Transport in London
- COBRA and the PM
- Television licence postponement
- Further information
COVID-19: What is it?
Firstly, we need to understand what Coronavirus is. Coronavirus as such has been known for some time. However, there are different strains of the virus and the problem we are currently facing is from a new strain, identified as COVID-19 following the outbreak in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It is a condition that affects the lungs, starting with a fever followed by a dry cough which can lead to breathing problems. This means those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or lung disease (such as asthma) are at risk. As a significant number of elderly people have these conditions they are at greater risk than the rest of the population. But to put this into context, the flu virus can kill several thousand people each year so the Government is currently advising older people to consider ‘social distancing’ rather than complete isolation. Symptoms take, on average, five days to emerge but it must be stressed not in every case. It is the same with regard to the incubation period, which can last up to 14 days but has, according to the World Health Organization, lasted for 24 days. You can find full information here
Secondly, it is us, as citizens of the UK, who can have the most impact on this situation. The most important action we can all take is to accept personal responsibility to limit non-essential social contact, catch coughs and sneezes in a disposable handkerchief - and then dispose of it - and wash our hands properly. I am horrified when I see people leaving public toilets without washing their hands. As someone who shakes many hands, I wash my own every time I return to my home or office - and particularly after using public transport.
Home working and emails
The media is showing that many people have chosen to work from home and that is a good step in preventing a spread of this virus. With modern technology it is possible to communicate by telephone, email and even video conferencing and I urge people to do this. I will be making more use of email to respond to constituents rather than posting personal letters as I would usually do. This will reduce the amount of contact by a number of people. If you are expecting a response from my office and have not received a letter, please check your spam, Trash or Junk inboxes as experience has shown that when people have said they didn’t receive a response to their email, they have found my reply deposited by their computer in one of these inboxes.
School closures - updated
Several constituents have contacted me about closing schools across the constituency. The Secretary of State for Education has now announced that schools in the UK are to shut from Friday until further notice. Schools will remain open to look after the children of keyworkers (such as frontline NHS staff) and vulnerable children. Further information about exams for A-Level and GCSE students will be released in due course and I will update accordingly.
Some people over the age of 70 have asked me to remind the Government that they are not pariahs. This is important to remember as the general populace are more likely to transfer this virus to older people rather than the other way around. I hope everyone will consider who they know who is elderly and telephone them to provide them with someone to speak to and ensure they have enough food and other supplies, particularly medical. This need not be restricted just to relatives but people in your street, those who may worship alongside you or someone you simply aware of. Check to see that curtains are drawn each day and that letters and mail is not piling up.
Barnet Council and volunteering
I have discuss this situation with the Leader of Barnet Council and public services are continuing to be delivered. Adult Social Care remains working to assist elderly people and ensure their needs are met. Some people have kindly sought to volunteer with the Council but this would create more strain on services as all volunteers would need to be vetted and this would take resources away from front-line care. Charities may be in a similar situation. Many organisations in the third sector are continuing to deliver the service they usually perform and if they need assistance from the public a public appeal will be made and offers of voluntary help will be welcomed. What could help is if groups of people got together to check on the well-being of elderly and single people in their community to ensure they have food, human contact and have not fallen ill.
Support for business
I understand how difficult this situation will be for businesses. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced unprecedented economic measures to support businesses - large and small. This includes £330bn of guaranteed loans for businesses, equivalent to 15% of GDP. The Government has been clear that businesses in the hospitality sector (such as pubs and restaurants) which have insurance that covers pandemics can claim. For smaller businesses in the hospitality sector who do not have insurance, there will be cash grants of £25,000 per business. Please visit the Government's dedicated Business Support Helpline for more information about what support your business is entitled to.
Support for the self-employed
The Government package for the self-employed will offer a taxable grant worth 80% of your average monthly profits over the last three years, up to £2,500 a month. This will cover 95% per cent of self-employed and will bring you in line with furloughed employed people.
COBRA and the PM
The Prime Minister is chairing a daily meeting of COBRA. This is the acronym that refers to Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, a meeting room at the Cabinet Office at 70 Whitehall in London that is used to co-ordinate the actions of the Government across the UK. The first COBRA meeting took place in the 1970s to oversee the government's response to the 1972 miners' strike but recent years have seen meetings considering the Foot and Mouth outbreak, terrorist attacks and the Calais refugee crisis. The Prime Minister is undertaking a daily televised briefing to inform people what he has discussed and update on progress as the Government responds to events.
Television licence postponement
The BBC has announced that it intends to delay the introduction of television licences for people aged 75 years old and over, from 1st June until 1st August. This will allow people who do not have access to the internet and other news sources to continue updating themselves about this pandemic via their televisions.
You can click on the links below to access information about specific issues including:
- UK Government Action Plan
- Guidance for employers and businesses
- Advice on schools and school closures
- Guidance for vulnerable people
- Foreign Office travel advice
I hope this information is helpful but if you think you may have Covid-19, have travelled to an affected area or have been in close contact with someone who has travelled to an affected area, you should visit www.nhs.uk
You should NOT go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. Use the NHS 111 online service to find out what to do next.