Coronavirus – guidance and advice

I’ve been contacted by constituents who are, understandably, concerned about the impact of Coronavirus on them and their families.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presents unprecedented challenges for our public health and our economy at an individual, local, national, and international level.

Below, I’ve compiled some key information which may be helpful during this period of uncertainty.

NHS guidelines

The NHS has a plan to cope with the spread of the virus and has some essential advice for people on its website, here.

If you believe you may have contracted Coronavirus, you can check your symptoms via NHS 111’s online symptom checker, here.

Everyone is encouraged to wash their hands regularly with soap and water.

Government guidelines

The UK Government has a helpful online Coronavirus hub, here.

It includes the latest “stay at home” (self-isolating) guidance here.

If you must go out, please follow the government guidelines on social distancing here.

It is important that we all play our part in helping to prevent the spread of this virus. The measures that the UK Government has put in place are there to protect us all – and particularly older and vulnerable people whom we may unknowingly pass the virus onto.

Strong adherence to the latest public health advice will also help to ensure that our NHS can cope with the likely increased demand over the coming days, weeks, and potentially months.

Support for employees

Many people are, understandably, concerned about their job situation as a result of the uncertainty around Coronavirus – particularly people on zero hours contracts and those unable to work due to self-isolation, social distancing and caring for members of their family. Others are facing losing their jobs as a result of this.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – the government has cover the cost of 80% of employees earnings if they are furloughed due to their workplace closing as part of the Coronavirus response. It is hoped that this will result in fewer job losses. More info, here.

The rules regarding Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) have been updated in light of the Coronavirus outbreak. The latest changes are available here.

The Self Employment Income Support Scheme – to support self-employed people, the government is allowing you to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for the next 3 months. This may be extended if needed. Tax and VAT payments have also been deferred. More info, here.

If you’ve recently been made unemployed, you can find out more about the support available here. The Government is reviewing this and taking extra measures in response to the impact of Coronavirus.

School closures

With the announced school and nursery closures across the UK, I know that many parents are concerned about the amount of leave they may be able to take to look after their children.

You can find information about your rights to time off for dependants here. Please also check with your employer as some have more generous allowances than others.

The government has said that school provision will be made available for children of key workers (such as NHS workers, police and those charity workers involved in the Coronavirus response) and vulnerable children. See who qualifies as a key worker here. You will need to inform your child’s school or nursery if you are in this category and want to use this provision.

Panic buying

There have been reports of panic buying from supermarkets and lengthy waits for home delivery. The UK’s leading supermarkets have all clearly stated that there is enough food and household essential supplies to go around if everybody sticks to buying what they need. Many have put measures in place to try and manage this, including reserved time slots for older people and other groups and a 3 item limit on certain things.

Supermarket responses to Coronavirus

  • Aldi’s response here
  • Asda’s response here
  • Iceland’s response here
  • Lidl’s response here
  • Morrisons’ response here
  • Sainsbury’s response here
  • Tesco’s response here

Please also remember there are smaller shops across Bristol South many of which do have the supplies you need.

Food Banks

Local food bank demand has increased in recent weeks and some have been affected by panic buying. Citizens Advice has a guide on how to get help from a food bank, here. It usually requires a referral from a health or social care professional or relevant support organisation.

Bristol South has a number of independent food banks (see below)

  • Carpenter’s Food and Support based in the Withywood Centre. Contact: wasps@hotmail.com
  • Refresh Bedminster café and food bank on East St. Contact: refreshbs3@gmail.com
  • Victoria Park Baptist Church food bank. Contact: vpbc.foodbank@gmail.com

Please note that food banks have been affected by volunteers needing to self-isolate, shortages related to panic buying and may need support in the form of donations of money, food items and time (volunteering).

Community support

It’s been great to see so many people and organisations coming together to support the response to Coronavirus.

The NHS is looking for volunteers to help up people who have been asked to shield themselves from coronavirus because of underlying health conditions. It includes delivering medicines from pharmacies and driving patients to appointments as well as calling people on the phone. You can sign up to become NHS Volunteer Responders, here.

Bristol City Council is co-ordinating the local and has a registration page for anyone interested in volunteering to help with this. To register your interest as a volunteer, please see here.

If you can afford to donate to the local Coronavirus Response Fund, you can do so here. It will help charities and community organisations who are supporting people through this pandemic.

Travel advice

The Government has advised against non-essential travel on public transport. People should be staying at home unless absolutely necessary to go out.

Local public transport services (buses and trains) are running reduced services with extra measures in place to help tackle the spread of Coronavirus. Please see here for the latest travel updates.

The government has announced a temporary 6 month MOT exemption to enable vital services to continue, frontline workers to get to work, and people to get essential food and medicine. All cars, vans and motorcycles which usually would require an MOT test will be exempted from needing a test from 30 March 2020. Vehicles must be kept in a roadworthy condition, and garages will remain open for essential repair work. Drivers can be prosecuted if driving unsafe vehicles.More info, here.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised against all non-essential international travel. If you are currently overseas on holiday or seeking to return from a period abroad, you are advised to contact your airline or travel company. You are also able to contact the FCO by calling (0)207 008 1500.

Support for businesses

Bristol City Council is publishing regular updates on its website, including information about changes to council services while social distancing measures are in place. For the latest updates, please see here.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced an extensive package of measures to help businesses cope during the Coronavirus pandemic, including reduced business rates. More info on this, here.

Find out more about the government support planned here. And the support locally, here.

Please note that the UK Government has indicated that the package of support available will be reviewed as the outbreak continues.

Constituency surgeries

In line with the current public health advice, I have postponed by upcoming advice surgeries and face-to-face community engagements. My team and I are still working hard to respond to constituents’ concerns as quickly as possible, although we will be prioritising cases relating to the Coronavirus outbreak.

If you live in Bristol South and need further advice or support, please get in touch by emailing karin.smyth.mp@parliament.uk

I hope that you and your family stay safe during this difficult time – please do reach out for help if you need it. The community response to this situation has been heartening. Together, we can ensure that we support those who need help.

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