The advice from chief medical officers around the coronavirus outbreak is quite rightly about protecting the vulnerable from the virus and about making sure services like the NHS are able to respond where they are most needed.
Washing hands regularly is as much about protecting others as it is about protecting yourself. The advice to self-isolate is important, but it is also equally important that we don’t stop looking after each other too.
Being able to cut yourself off from the world is easier for those who can afford it. Those with insecure work or living arrangements face an uncertain future. Self-employed people are already having contracts cancelled, throwing huge question marks over their income for the next few months. We now need to work to ensure access to benefits and advice is available for all who require assistance.
We should be aware of the impact that self-isolation and closures will have on older people and those with poor mental health too, who may already be isolated and afraid, whether they have symptoms or not.
More than ever, we should be offering help to those we know who might be isolated. We can be proactive without putting them at risk, for example collecting groceries for them, or at least letting them know we are there if they need anything.
It is natural to worry first about yourself and those close to you, but panicked stockpiling, for example, has exposed how much vulnerable communities rely on foodbanks, where reports suggest there are now shortages. It is a disgrace that ¬austerity has made emergency food so commonplace, but such inequality can be exacerbated in situations like this.
The bare supermarket shelves might be an inconvenience to some, but there will be some vulnerable ¬people unable to do their regular grocery shopping as a result. We have started to see some retailers restrict the amount some people can buy, and I’m confident common sense can prevail.
It is not just the elderly who need support. People with chronic asthma and heart conditions are also vulnerable. So far, people with underlying health conditions have had the same advice as everyone else, and clearly they want more reassurances than that, especially when the UK Government has been reassuring people that coronavirus is “relatively safe” for 98 per cent of the population. If you are anywhere near that two per cent, that message has the opposite effect, and will be very worrying indeed. Disabled and older people must be reassured that their wellbeing is a priority and central to all planning.
Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland has an advice line and its nurses are eager to help at this time, as are many other expert organisations. The Green Parties of the UK have called for the Westminster government’s forthcoming emergency legislation to include a Coronavirus Solidarity Pact, to ensure that vulnerable people are offered extensive protections and security.
The fear and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus outbreak can be countered though. It is incumbent on governments to do all they can to support the vulnerable, but it is acts of kindness and charity from all of us that can overcome the worst impacts of the changes in behaviour we are being asked to make. Sharing kindness rather than fear, we can truly look out for each other.