UK asks for 250,000 volunteers to help its health service cope with the coronavirus outbreak

A military lorry is seen as members of the 101 Logistic Brigade of the British Army deliver a consignment of medical masks to St Thomas’ hospital on March 24, 2020 in London, England.

Leon Neal | Getty Images

The U.K. government on Tuesday appealed for 250,000 “people in good health” to help its health service cope with the coronavirus outbreak.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock also said that final year medical students and student nurses would be moved to the National Health Service’s (NHS) “front line.”

“We are seeking a quarter of a million volunteers, people in good health, to help the NHS, for shopping, for delivery of medicines and to support those who are shielded to protect their own health,” Hancock told reporters.

It is hoped that the network of volunteers — which will be known as NHS Volunteer Responders — will help the up-to 1.5 million people especially vulnerable to coronavirus who have been told to “shield” themselves for 12 weeks. 

The government’s latest press briefing on the fast-spreading COVID-19 was held virtually rather than physically for the first time, following more stringent restrictions on the British public. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new measures on Monday, in a bid to contain the epidemic.

Hancock also announced that the government was opening a temporary hospital, called NHS Nightingale, which would have two wards of 2,000 people each. It will be located near the Excel exhibition center in London.

“With the help of the military and with NHS clinicians, we will make sure that we have the capacity that we need so that everyone can get the support they need,” he added.

Britain’s health department on Tuesday reported a further 87 deaths of patients who tested positive for COVID-19. It brings the country’s total death toll to 422, while the number of confirmed cases has risen to 8,077.

As of Tuesday morning, all nonessential public buildings and places in the U.K. — ranging from libraries to churches, outdoor gyms and playgrounds — were ordered to close.  All social events including weddings and baptisms have also been stopped, apart from funerals. Gatherings of more than two people, excluding people that live with each other, were also banned. 

The public has been told to stay at home and can now only leave home for essential trips to buy food or medicines, to provide essential care, travel to work if absolutely necessary or to exercise once a day.

The stricter measures came into force after good weather at the weekend prompted thousands of people to head to open spaces like national parks and beaches across the U.K., in many cases creating crowds that contravened government guidelines to maintain social distancing.

— Holly Ellyatt contributed to this report

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