uk SOCIAL DISTANCE
Shoppers observe social distancing as they wait in a queue outside a supermarket in Walthamstow, east London on March 27, 2020, after Britain's government ordered a lockdown to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Image Credit: AFP

London: The United Kingdom will use firefighters to help deliver food, retrieve dead bodies and drive ambulances as it braces for the looming peak of the coronavirus outbreak that has already claimed the lives of more than 22,000 people across the world.

Britain initially took a strikingly modest approach to the worst health crisis since the 1918 influenza epidemic but then changed tack to impose stringent controls after projections showed a quarter of a million British people could die.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered a virtual lockdown of the world’s fifth largest economy to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus banning Britons from leaving their homes for all non-essential reasons.

So far, 578 people in the United Kingdom have died after testing positive for coronavirus and the number of confirmed cases has risen to 11,658. The UK toll is the seventh worst in the world, after Italy, Spain, China, Iran, France and the United States, according to a Reuters tally.

New tasks for firefighters

Under a deal struck between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), Fire chiefs and Fire and Rescue Employers, firefighters will continue to respond to their usual emergencies but will now also carry out new tasks.

“We face a public health crisis unparalleled in our lifetimes. The coronavirus outbreak is now a humanitarian emergency and firefighters rightly want to help their communities,” said Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary.

Britain lockdown
Glass is strewn on the pavement in front of the vandalised door of a Chinese restaurant in Glasgow, Scotland on March 27, 2020. Britain was under lockdown, its population joining around 1.7 billion people around the globe ordered to stay indoors to curb the "accelerating" spread of the coronavirus. Image Credit: AFP

“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.” As well as collecting those who die should there be mass casualties, firefighters can drive ambulances, and take food and medicine to the vulnerable under the agreement.

To cope with the outbreak, Britain has already asked tens of thousands of retired doctors and healthcare workers to return to work, while hundreds of thousands of people have volunteered to assist the state-run National Health Service.

It is important that we take all reasonable steps to bolster our numbers

- London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick

On Friday, the capital’s ambulance service appealed to former paramedics and control room staff for help, and London’s police force asked officers who have retired in the last five years to come back.

“It is important that we take all reasonable steps to bolster our numbers,” London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said.

Britain claps

Britons across the country took to their balconies and front doors on Thursday evening to applaud health workers and bang pots and pans to show support for those working for the nation’s much-loved NHS.

There has been criticism that the government has not acted quickly enough to provide protective equipment to frontline healthcare staff and it is also scrambling to source thousands of ventilators to treat those with severe breathing problems caused by the virus.

The government has admitted that it missed an opportunity to join a European Union procurement scheme to source the equipment because of an email mix up.

“There was an issue in terms of communications so the tendering process on those schemes had already started,” Business Secretary Alok Sharma told BBC radio on Friday.