My office has received an unprecedented number of enquiries since the start of the coronavirus crisis and we are working flat-out to respond. We do not always have the answers but we will do all we can to help and advise you.
The support for our NHS and other emergency workers has been fantastic but I would also like to recognise and be appreciative of our shop workers, Royal Mail and delivery drivers, teachers and the military. So many people, who were previously taken for granted, are now providing increasingly essential services.
Please stay at home and comply with the Government's advice - the more people that comply, the quicker this will be over.
This country will bounce back and return to normal. The worst is still to come but we will get through this awful period and be able to enjoy the freedoms, we all took for granted, once again.
We have now been staying at home and socially distancing from each other for over a week and Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, has reported that social distancing appears to be working. He said hospital admissions are increasing by a stable amount each day but did warn that deaths will continue to rise. During his presentation, he referred to a number of slides showing how the use of transport has declined, the number of new UK cases and the number of hospital admissions.
In the most recent press conference, the Medical Director of NHS England, Professor Stephen Powis, added ‘we are not out of the woods’ despite there being a ‘bit of a plateau’ in infections.
A link to the slides presented by Sir Patrick Vallance can be found below.
Kent's vulnerable receive food parcels
Kent County Council has reported that last weekend saw the first delivery of food parcels to those most vulnerable in the county who are being "shielded".
Food deliveries are currently part of a national service, as part of a wide range of support for extremely vulnerable people and are being organised by the Government in partnership with the grocery industry, local government and local resilience forums.
Local authorities are working across the country with local partners and voluntary groups to meet their communities’ needs.
The packages contain essential food and household items such as pasta, fruit, tinned goods and biscuits, for those who need to self-isolate at home for 12 weeks but have no support network of family or friends to help them.
900,000 extremely vulnerable people received letters from the NHS giving them guidance on how to shield from coronavirus. In total up to 1.5 million will be asked to be shielded in this way. Others who did not receive letters but think they are part of this clinically vulnerable group should contact their GP.
At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, there were up to four million Brits overseas, including many Dartfordians who were scattered all over the world and on cruise ships. Many of these Brits live abroad and do not wish to return but others are desperate to get back to the UK.
The Foreign Office has been working tirelessly to get people home and has already helped hundreds of thousands of them to return but many travellers haven’t yet managed to get home.
Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, has announced a new arrangement between the Government and airlines to fly home tens of thousands of stranded Brits, where commercial flights are no longer possible. Flights will be targeted from a range of priority countries, starting this week.
Where commercial routes remain an option, airlines will be responsible for getting passengers home. That means offering alternative flights at little to no cost where routes have been cancelled. And it means allowing passengers to change tickets, including between carriers.
So for those still in those countries where commercial options are still available, the advice from the Foreign Office is don’t wait. Don’t run the risk of getting stranded. The airlines are standing by to help you and you should book your tickets as soon as possible.
Where commercial flights are no longer running, the Government will provide the necessary financial support for special charter flights to bring UK nationals back home. Once special charter flights have been arranged, flights will be promoted through the Government’s travel advice and by the British Embassy or High Commission in the relevant country.
British travellers who want a seat on those flight will book and pay directly through a dedicated travel management company.
£75 million has been designated to support those flights and airlines to keep costs down and affordable for those seeking to return to the UK.
The priority will be the most vulnerable, including the elderly or those with particularly pressing medical needs, and also looking in particular at countries where large numbers of UK tourists are struggling to get home.
UK travellers, if they haven’t already done so, should check Foreign Office Travel Advice<[link removed]> and that advice is under constant review, and it can help travellers to find out more details of how to access the flights under this arrangement.
They should also follow the social media of the UK embassy or high commission<[link removed]> in the country where they find themselves, so that they can be directed to accurate real time information, including from the local authorities.
For any questions that can’t be answered in that travel advice, or by the UK Embassies or High Commission, the call centre is working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The number is: 020 7008 1500.
Letter from the Prime Minister
Every UK household will be receiving a letter from the Prime Minister, who is urging everyone to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. This letter outlines the guidance everyone must follow, as well as thanking our NHS and social care staff who are working round the clock, along with the 750,000 people who have volunteered to protect others.
Help announced for the self-employed
Last week, the Chancellor announced help for millions of self-employed individuals.
In the latest step to protect individuals and businesses, Rishi Sunak has set out plans that will see the self-employed receive up to £2,500 per month in grants for at least 3 months.
Millions of people across the UK could benefit from the new Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, with those eligible receiving a cash grant worth 80% of their average monthly trading profit over the last three years. This covers 95% of people who receive the majority of their income from self-employment.
Cleaners, plumbers, electricians, musicians, hairdressers and many other self-employed people who are eligible for the new scheme will be able to apply directly to HMRC for the taxable grant, using a simple online form, with the cash being paid directly into people’s bank account.
You cannot apply for this scheme yet. HMRC will contact you if you are eligible for the scheme and invite you to apply online.
Guidance on self-employment income support scheme<[link removed]>
Testing for Covid-19 and vaccine investment
There has been much in the media about coronavirus testing and the Government is fully aware of the importance of testing as many people as possible. It is aiming to test as many as 25,000 people every day.
However, a critical constraint on the ability to rapidly increase testing capacity is the availability of the chemical reagents which are necessary in the testing. The Prime Minister and the Health Secretary are working with companies worldwide to ensure that we get the material we need to increase tests of all kinds.
The highest priority cases will be tested first which includes those most at risk of severe illness and NHS staff and other critical workers.
The overriding aim is to save lives, protect the most vulnerable and relieve pressure on the NHS. It is not necessary, or indeed sensible, to test everyone in the country, because, as the medical experts have advised, the majority of people with the virus will have only mild symptoms. It is therefore far better to prioritise those most at risk, such as patients in critical care, when deciding who to test
As you may also have seen, Public Health England is currently testing a new antibody test that may be able to show if a person has had Covid-19.
The UK is also now the biggest contributor to the international coalition to find a vaccine. The Prime Minister announced last week that the race to find a vaccine for coronavirus will be boosted by £210 million of new UK aid funding.
To date, this is the largest single contribution by any country to the key international fund to find a coronavirus vaccine. It will ensure British scientists and researchers continue to lead the global fight against the virus.
The Prime Minister is calling on governments to work together to create a vaccine as quickly as possible and make it available to anyone who needs it.
The UK, along with many other countries, is channelling funding to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) which is supporting the development of vaccines that will be available throughout the world. Future vaccines will be made available at the lowest possible price to the NHS and other countries’ healthcare systems.
Over the last week some police forces have been accused of taking a heavy-handed approach to enforcing the new coronavirus regulations.
I am pleased to see that Kent Police have taken a more sensible approach. They will, though, treat any criminality seriously, particularly domestic violence, at this time.
It should also be said that the courts are taking precisely the right, zero tolerance attitude towards people coughing at emergency workers. This is completely unacceptable and anyone who does this should expect a prison sentence.
Looking after our mental health
The coronavirus crisis is having an impact on everyone's lives. Staying at home and social distancing can cause frustration, boredom or loneliness. People are also worried and anxious about the situation, their jobs and their health and it's important that we take care of our mental health and wellbeing.
The link to the guide below provides advice on how to look after your mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
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