Herald Column: March 19

It is difficult to write about anything but Coronavirus this week and most of my emails are from constituents seeking advice about everything from will they still be able to go and work on their allotment if they are over 70 to how to keep local businesses afloat facing shutdown.

Obviously, we are in unprecedented times and events are moving and developing fast. My overriding advice is to avoid the often-misinformed self-proclaimed experts on social media who seem to take a delight in scaremongering and mischief making. The information coming from the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser is measured, practical and based on the science informed by some of the best medical experts in the world we are lucky to have in the UK. Timing is also key to get people to accept and sustain advice which is why we may appear to be doing some things differently to other countries. Whatever your views on Boris, Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance who flank him at the daily briefings are just the sort of reassuring and balanced experts you need in a crisis.

This week I have added a section on my website with up to date official clinical advice about the action people should be taking as well as links to measures to help struggling businesses announced in last week’s Budget and subsequently. This will be updated on a regular basis.

In Worthing where we rely heavily on the hospitality industry with around 300 restaurants alone and a much higher than average older population, we are likely to be heavily affected and we need everyone to rally round. Not surprisingly I have been approached by many constituents wanting to volunteer to help out and if our older citizens are being advised to stay at home there will be many opportunities to keep an eye on neighbours, offer to do shopping or run errands.

It is important that this goodwill is harnessed as effectively as possible and without unwittingly spreading the virus or putting people at risk. I have therefore spoken to some of our existing local organisations such as Community Works, Guild Care and Worthing Homes as well as council leaders and local church groups to see what help they need and how they can best utilise volunteers to reach out to the wider community. There is therefore a section on my website with contact details for where people can offer their help across the constituency and I am keen to add more if people pass on this information to me.

For many it is a matter of looking out for immediate members and families and the use of local Facebook pages is invaluable for spreading information and advice. I have also published a version of the #viralkindness leaflet designed to drop through the doors of people self-isolating who may need help, as well as some basis dos and don’ts for those setting up their own social action projects.

Please spare a thought also for local businesses who are really suffering at the moment especially in the hospitality industry. Many restaurants are offering a delivery service and if you would have been planning to eat out then you can support them by ordering in. I will be happy to publicise services such as this on my website as well for any businesses in Adur and Worthing.

We are in for a tough few months, but it is at times like this that I know the local community in my constituency always steps up to the challenge. For those who plan to be around on Saturday morning I will have my usual street surgery outside the Lancing Children’s Centre from 10-12.