Some 170,000 people signed up overnight on Tuesday, and by Friday evening, more than 700,000 people had answered the call for volunteers to help the national effort to fight the Covid-19 virus
More than 700,000 people have signed up to volunteer for the NHS in response to the coronavirus crisis. They have pledged to be available to help vulnerable people who have been instructed not to leave their homes for the timebeing during the Covid-19 outbreak.
The call to action came on Tuesday from health secretary Matt Hancock, who requested for 250,000 people to donate their time to help the 1.5 million people isolating for 12 weeks in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In the hours after his announcement, it amounted to three people enlisting every second.
NHS England’s national medical director, Stephen Powis, said he was “bowled over” by the response. “Yesterday we sent out a call to arms for an army of NHS volunteers, looking for a quarter of a million volunteers, and I can say that overnight we’ve already had 170,000 people sign up. It’s an absolutely astonishing response,” he told BBC Breakfast.
The total had grown to 405,000 by the time prime minister Boris Johnson answered questions from the media during the daily coronavirus press conference on Wednesday afternoon, and 504,303 by Thursday morning. On Friday evening, Downing Street confirmed that more than 700,000 people had signed up, according to Sky News.
Asked if he had expected such support, Powis answered: “I think at times of crisis, people come together. And the vast majority of people in this country are doing what the government has asked us all to do.
“I know there are vast numbers of people looking to help neighbours, vulnerable people who live close by, so no it doesn’t surprise me at all. In times like this, as the chief medical officer has already said, we see outbreaks of altruism, people wanting to help, so it’s a wonderful response in the same way that all those doctors coming back, nurses coming back. I’m bowled over by it.”
I think at times of crisis, people come together
People can join the scheme in four different roles: a community response volunteer involves “collecting shopping, medication or other essential supplies for someone who is self-isolating, and delivering these supplies to their home”.
Patient transport volunteers will support the NHS by driving discharged patients to their homes, and NHS transport volunteers will be asked to move equipment, supplies or medication between sites. Other volunteers will provide support calls to elderly people who are in isolation and at risk of becoming lonely.
Volunteers must be over 18, fit and healthy and able to pass an enhanced DBS check. Those in higher-risk groups (including those over 70, those who are pregnant or with underlying medical conditions) will be able to offer support by telephone.
They will be directed to tasks via a ‘responder app’ that they can switch to say they are “on duty” when they are available.
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Image: Nurses and staff carry food delivered by volunteers outside St George’s Hospital as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in London. Reuters/Dylan Martinez
This article was published on Wednesday 25 March and amended on the morning of Thursday 26 March, and the evening of Friday 27 March, to reflect further increases in volunteer sign-ups.