This week our Social Impact Briefing is dedicated entirely to how humanity is coming together in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic: from taking local action and doing your bit to newly available funding.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) labelled Europe the ‘epicentre’ of the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday 13th March. We’ve just seen global Coronavirus infections surpass the number of cases in China, where the outbreak began, with 1,543 people testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK as of this morning.
In times liable to panic, speculation, and hysteria, it’s important to highlight the good that has been under reported or escaped the headlines. That’s why we’ve dedicated this week’s social impact briefing to showcasing the importance of a collaborative approach to tackling this public health crisis and the development of innovative ways of cooperating both on and offline.
| Do your bit
Last week we closed our physical office in central London and started working remotely to ensure the health and wellbeing, not only of the Shape History team, but also that of anyone we come into contact with en route to work.
A lot of us may consider ourselves part of the low risk population. Some of us may be asymptomatic yet still contagious. This makes us far more responsible for the spread of the virus than the elderly and those with underlying medical problems.
If you are able to, self-isolating and reducing unnecessary outings and social gatherings can help save lives. As testing isn’t readily available for everyone with mild symptoms at the moment, social distancing remains key.
| Don’t panic buy
Despite rationing put in place in some stores and the issuing of a joint appeal for calm by all major operating supermarkets, there’s still a lack of essential items on shelves around the country.
We can’t stop people buying more than they need, but we can do our little bit to raise awareness about overbuying. Our team went out on the road to alert everyone with a DIY overbuying hazard sign.
Overbuying can put the most vulnerable at risk, including those who can’t afford to stockpile goods or are unable to physically go to their local supermarket and rely on the strained online delivery service.
One store in Belfast, Northern Ireland will begin opening earlier from tomorrow morning. The wider public have been asked to respect this hour as allocated for elderly people only, allowing them to buy food when it’s quieter amid the shopping frenzy.
| Taking local action
Local organising to support the most vulnerable in our communities
Hundreds of mutual aid groups have been set up to offer practical support for those in self-isolation across the country in the last few days.
Check if there is one in your local area here. If your area is missing from the list, get in touch with COVID-19 Mutual Aid UK, who are coordinating the groups on a national level and volunteer to start your own. There is a great hub of resources available from their website to get you started.
“If you are self isolating, I can help”
If you want to show your immediate neighbours that you are available to help with any requests should they be self isolating, then we recommend using one of these #ViralKindness postcards developed by Becky Wass, an associate lecturer at Falmouth University, who started doing this in her Cornish town and has since seen the use of her postcard template reach as far as Australia.
| On the frontline
We need to acknowledge the extremely important work being done by frontline workers in helping keep hospitals and transportation running smoothly.
Some of society’s vital unsung heroes include NHS cleaning, porter and catering staff, as well as social care workers looking after our elderly. Many, including Transport for London staff, won’t have a choice to self-isolate and will continue to keep our city moving.
These roles are at the essence of our society functioning normally and will help save many lives over the coming weeks. We want to say thank you!
If you’re working in London and are concerned about the financial impact of self-isolating or have questions about sick pay, visit the Mayor of London’s Employment Rights Hub.
| Tackling rumours
The NHS unveiled measures to battle coronavirus fake news in a joint effort with Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. These include:
- Google providing easy access to verified NHS guidance when someone searches for coronavirus.
- Working with Twitter to suspend false accounts putting out inaccurate or misleading information.
- Working across all platforms to verify or ‘blue tick’ over 800 accounts belonging to NHS organisations including hospital trusts and local commissioning groups.
- The introduction of prominent pop out boxes of information, ‘Knowledge Panels’, as part of Google search on mobile.
| New funding
The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator
A partnership between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and Mastercard Impact Fund is committing $125 million in seed funding toward an accelerator created to speed up development of treatments for COVID-19 by:
- Testing approved drugs for activity against COVID-19.
- Screening libraries of thousands of compounds with confirmed safety data.
- Consider new investigational compounds and monoclonal antibodies.
The accelerator aims to bring together resources and expertise to lower the financial and technical risk for academia, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies.
The European Innovation Council Accelerator
The European Commission is issuing a ‘bottom-up’ call with a budget of €164m for start ups and enterprises with technologies and innovations that could help in treating, testing, monitoring or other aspects of the Coronavirus outbreak.
There are no predefined thematic priorities and the deadline for applications is 17:00 on Wednesday 18 March. Learn more and apply here.
| Lessons from another virus
Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, announced yesterday that PrEP, the drug taken by HIV-negative people before and after sex, or daily, which reduces the risk of getting HIV, will become available on the NHS next month.
There are an estimated 100,000+ people living with HIV in the UK. It is hoped that rolling out the drug in England would eliminate new HIV infections within 10 years.
The development of PrEP and its public availability comes more than 40 years after the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. As we currently face one of the biggest challenges to public health in decades, news of PrEP’s public availability and a reflection on how far we’ve come in the fight against AIDS/HIV should serve as a reminder of what humanity can achieve when we choose to work together.