Urgent action needed as elderly face months of self-isolation due to coronavirus

Charity bosses and union chiefs have demanded urgent action to keep pensioners supplied with food, medicines and essentials when they go into self-isolation.

The call came after Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned millions of people over-70 will have to hide ­themselves away for four months in a bid to avoid being hit by coronavirus.

He refused to reveal exactly when the plan would swing into action, but said it would be in the “coming weeks”.

But Age UK urged the Government to bring in an action plan within days.

In other developments:

  • The UK death toll from Covid-19 rose by 14 to 35, including the youngest, Nick Matthews, 59.
  • British tourists were scrambling to get on planes around the world.
  • Mr Hancock admitted there were not enough ventilators for hospitals.
  • UK horse racing will be behind closed doors until the end of March, with a decision on next month’s Grand National to be made soon.
  • All pubs and bars and bars in Ireland will shut for at least two weeks.
  • Italy recorded 368 new coronavirus deaths – its largest number in a day. Public Health England warned in a leaked secret paper the epidemic in the UK will last until next spring and could lead to 7.9 million people hospitalised.

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It is the first time health chiefs have admitted what many had feared.

The paper said: “As many as 80% of the population are expected to be infected with Covid-19 in the next 12 months, and up to 15% (7.9 million people) may require hospitalisation.”

Age UK called for measures including a guaranteed food supply, a register of vulnerable pensioners, a helpline for lonely ­residents and advice on how collect pensions and prescriptions during self-isolation.

It also demanded clarity on how strict it would be. Charity director Caroline Abrahams said: “It is a national emergency. We need to get all this nailed down within a week.

“There will be significant numbers of older people on their own so it’s crucial that there’s enough of a system to make sure they manage. We are not sure what this stay at home policy means yet. Can people visit if they respect social distancing measures?

“How restrictive is this? It’s really important the Government makes that clear. There will be a long list of things to think about. Who picks up my ­medication? Who walks my dog? Can I get someone to fix my boiler?

“People are anxious. The sooner we can get some clarification the better.”

Labour MP Rachael Maskell, the chairman of Ageing and Older People All-Party Parliamentary Group, said she hopes an “army of volunteers” will step up to support efforts.

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But she also called for town halls to draw up registers of vulnerable pensioners in their area.

Ms Maskell said: “Before the storm comes it’s really important to get those ­channels up and running. If there’s a one-stop helpline that would make it simple.”

But the GMB Union slammed Mr Hancock for confirming the isolation measures for ­over-70s would be brought in without full details.

National ­Secretary Rehana Azam said: “GMB is calling for an urgent taskforce to bring unions, councils and care providers together to draw up and deliver proper plans to protect older people.”

Luton North Labour MP Sarah Owen added: “Care workers and patients need to be reassured they will have all the resources, including food and ­protective equipment, so they can continue providing vital care, ­especially to the elderly and ­disabled who can’t leave home.”

Mr Hancock admitted the isolation plan was a “big ask” of pensioners. But he added: “It’s for their ­self-protection.”

Pressed on why he did not give any starting dates for the plane, he replied: “We do not want formally to say yet that people should do that and the reason for this length of time to stay self-isolated is very long, and we do know that if you ask people to do this sort of thing then they can tire of it.”

Mr Hancock also urged shoppers to avoid panic buying – as more shelves in supermarkets were yesterday emptied of loo rolls and hand cleaners.

He said: “I understand why people may be stocking up but people have got to behave responsibly.”

Stores, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda, yesterday took the unusual step of issuing a joint plea to shoppers not to buy more than they need.

A letter published in national ­newspapers said: “We understand your concerns but buying more than is needed can sometimes mean that others will be left without.

“There is enough for everyone if we all work together.”

Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia warned coronavirus “will be around forever”.

He added: “For the public to hear it could last for 12 months, people are going to be really upset. But it will become less severe over time, as immunity builds up.”

Boris Johnson will tomorrow chair a COBRA meeting to discuss shielding elderly and vulnerable people, ­household isolation and mass ­gatherings as the crisis escalates.

The US Federal Reserve tonight cut interest rates to 0% in a bid to help shore up the economy amid the ­coronavirus pandemic.

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