Many constituents are quite rightly particularly worried at the moment. This is completely understandable. COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic, we have seen it travel around the globe, and the cases rise here in the UK.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, was right to say this morning that this is the biggest challenge this country has faced in a generation. He is also right that the approach the Government takes must be guided by the science - doing the right thing and taking the right action, at the right time. The Prime Minister and the Health Secretary are being guided by the Chief Medical Officer (who is a world leading epidemiologist), the Chief Scientific Officer and SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies). They are also in regular contact with their equivalents across the globe.
The advice from Government is that if you have symptoms of coronavirus infection, however mild, do not leave your home for 7 days from when your symptoms started. The most common symptoms of coronavirus are a new continuous cough and/or high temperature. For most people, coronavirus will be a mild infection. This action is important as it will help protect others in our community while you are infectious.
As we have moved from the ‘contain’ into the ‘delay’ phase of COVID-19, Public Health England, NHS England and the Department for Health and Social Care have agreed on the need to prioritise testing for those most at risk of severe illness of the virus. This is in line with the top priority of everyone involved with fighting this virus – to protect life, protect the most vulnerable and protect the NHS. The health authorities have said that those in hospital care for pneumonia or acute respiratory illness will be a priority, meaning that the most at risk will be identified as early as possible, speeding up access to the right care and treatment. The official advice reads:
“People who are in the community with a fever or cough do not usually need testing. Instead, test will primarily be given to:
- all patients in critical care for pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) or flu like illness
- all other patients requiring admission to hospital for pneumonia, ARDS or flu like illness
- where an outbreak has occurred in a residential or care setting, for example long-term care facility, prisons”
Another topic that has been mentioned is the decision for schools to remain open. The Governments position is that they will remain open for now. There is a belief that the effect of closing schools is somewhat limited for the disease, and that it may have the effect of children going to stay with grandparents at a time when older people might be most vulnerable.
The Government will be introducing Emergency Legislation to Parliament this week. This legislation will cover a broad range of subjects, helping the Government most effectively tackle this virus.
A number of constituents have also contacted me regarding the support that will be offered by the Government to help those who do the right thing. These measures include:
- extend Statutory Sick Pay to those who are self-isolating in line with Government health guidance. (The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020)
- adjust the ESA and UC rules to ensure people are entitled to money from day 1 and we support self-employed people, including in the gig-economy, to receive welfare payments for periods of self-isolation. (The Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020).
People on zero-hour contracts may be eligible for SSP, depending how many hours they have worked regularly. Those affected by Covid-19 who need financial help will be able to access the benefit system without the need to provide medical evidence or attend a work capability assessment. The seven waiting days for Employment and Support Allowance for new claimants suffering from coronavirus or required to self-isolate will not apply, so it will be payable from day one.
For people on Universal Credit, regulations will ensure that those affected by Covid-19 will have work search and work availability requirements within UC switched off. The regulations will also provide access to other support within UC, such as a work allowance and childcare support for those with partners who are still able to work. Affect self-employed claimants will also not have a Minimum Income Floor (assumed level of income) applied for a period of time within UC.
The measure to enable SSP to be paid from day one, rather than four as it is currently, came into effect on 13th March. This will be legislated for in the coming emergency Bill, and retroactive to that date.
My advice to constituents is to closely follow the advice being provided by public health professionals at the Department for Health and Public Health England, details of which you can find here:
You may also wish to read the following articles from the Health Secretary and Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s Chief Scientific Advisor.
Finally, if you have family who have been stranded abroad by recent travel restrictions, you can call the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 0207 008 1500.