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Firefighters have agreed to deliver food and medicine, drive ambulances and retrieve bodies during the Covid-19 pandemic, as former ambulance staff and police officers were urged to come back to the front line.
Under a new crisis agreement, firefighters will be able to deliver essential items such as food to vulnerable people, drive ambulances and assist ambulance staff, and collect bodies in the event of mass casualties.
The plan, agreed by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), fire chiefs and employers, will see firefighters maintain core services such as attending fires and road traffic accidents, but also providing extra services as coronavirus continues to spread.
The plan will run for two months but can be extended if necessary and could affect the UK’s 48,000 firefighters and emergency control staff.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said: “We face a public health crisis unparalleled in our lifetimes. The coronavirus outbreak is now a humanitarian emergency and firefighters rightly want help their communities.
“Firefighters are fantastic at teamwork, are experienced in driving emergency vehicles and, as a service rooted in the community, may be best placed to deliver essential items to the most vulnerable.
“Many fear the loss of life in this outbreak could be overwhelming – and firefighters, who often handle terrible situations and incidents, are ready to step in to assist with body retrieval.”
Mr Wrack told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it would be “quite a serious challenge” for firefighters to take on more work.
He added: “I think this is a huge challenge across public services and also clearly we need to ensure that firefighters and others are protected in terms of personal protective equipment because no-one can do their job if their own safety is compromised.”
It comes as the Metropolitan Police Service and London Ambulance Service urged former workers to return to the service or come out of retirement.
Met Commissioner Cressida Dick is writing to all former officers who retired within the last five years to ask them to rejoin the force, either in a paid or voluntary capacity.
Serving officers who are nearing 30 years’ pensionable service are also being asked to delay their retirement.
Ms Dick said: “On behalf of London, and all the men and women of the Met, it is important that we take all reasonable steps to bolster our numbers.
“Demands on us will grow and vary over the coming weeks but I want people to know and see that the Met is here for them.”
We are asking former members of our team to consider returning, if they can, to support us in helping Londoners in need.
— London Ambulance Service #StayHomeSaveLives (@Ldn_Ambulance) March 27, 2020
Meanwhile, the London Ambulance Service tweeted that it was “asking former members of our team to consider returning, if they can, to support us in helping Londoners in need.”
It added: “We’re particularly keen to hear from former 111 and 999 control room team staff.”
Emergency services are among those whose staff have gone off sick with Covid-19 or who have employees in isolation.
As of Tuesday, at least 280 workers in the London Fire Brigade were in isolation (5% of its overall staff), while the West Midlands Fire Service, which covers Birmingham, had 105 staff in isolation (5.5% of staff) and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service had 285 staff in isolation, according to the FBU.
– The US now has more confirmed cases of coronavirus than any other country, with more than 85,500 positive tests. President Donald Trump said it was “a tribute to the amount of testing that we’re doing”.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) March 27, 2020
– GP Habib Zaidi, 76, who died at Southend Hospital in Essex, is feared to have become the first doctor in the UK to have died after contracting coronavirus.
– Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has apologised for “ill-judged and poorly timed” emails after the businessman faced fierce criticism when he tried to claim Sports Direct was an essential operator for keeping the nation fit.
– The managing director of Iceland supermarket said “healthy people” should be using stores to free up delivery slots for the elderly and the vulnerable.
– UK supermarkets said they will use a government database of 1.5 million vulnerable shoppers to help prioritise delivery slots.
– Four medics working in English hospitals have set up a crowdfunding page to raise £200,000 for personal protective equipment (PPE) after saying stocks are not enough. NHS England has ordered a rapid review of PPE.
– Labour MP Angela Rayner announced on Twitter that she is self-isolating after suffering symptoms, while Duncan Selbie, the chief executive of Public Health England is also self-isolating with symptoms.
On Thursday evening, the Prince of Wales joined millions of people around the UK who emerged from their homes to applaud NHS staff working on the front line.
Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis also clapped to thank healthcare staff “working tirelessly”.
A tweet from the NHS account said: “That was emotional.”
The national gesture came a few hours after the Department of Health announced a total of 578 people who tested positive for coronavirus in the UK had died as of 5pm on Thursday.
At the moment, some 4,300 coronavirus patients are in hospital, including around 2,000 in London.
On Thursday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a package of support which which will see the Government give millions of self-employed people a grant worth up to £2,500 a month.
That was emotional 💙
— NHS (@NHSuk) March 26, 2020
Mr Sunak said the scheme, which will be open for at least three months, will cover 80% of a self-employed person’s average monthly profits.
But it may not be available until June and will only be available to those who have a tax return for 2019, meaning the newly self-employed will be ineligible.
You have not been forgotten. We will not leave you behind. We are all in this together.
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) March 26, 2020
Mr Sunak’s scheme will be open to those with a trading profit of less than £50,000 in 2018-19 or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.
Up to 3.8 million people will qualify for support, with average monthly payments expected to be £940 per person.
On Friday, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said former HMRC workers should be brought back in by the Government to ensure payments are available for the self-employed before June.