The Covid-19 virus reached the UK in late January 2020. As of 30 May 2021, there had been 4.5 million cases confirmed and 128,030 deaths overall among people who had recently tested positive. There have been 153,371 deaths where the death certificate mentioned COVID by 21 May 2021.
In early March 2020, COVID became a notifiable disease in the UK and testing of suspected cases began. A public health campaign was launched to help slow the virus’s spread, and the UK government introduced the Health Protection Regulations for England. The Chief medical officer Chris Whitty outlined a four-pronged strategy to tackle the outbreak: contain, delay, research and mitigate.
On 23 March 2020, the UK went into lockdown. The governments imposed a stay-at-home order banning all non-essential travel and contact with other people, and shut almost all schools, businesses and gathering places. Those with symptoms, and their households, were told to self-isolate, while those with certain illnesses were told to shield themselves. People were told to keep apart in public. Police were empowered to enforce the measures, and the Coronavirus Act 2020 gave all four UK governments emergency powers.
It was within this context that the Foxton Centre had to consider how to continue with our work. It is well known within our sector that people with no home are at high COVID harm risk. They are substantially more likely than even the most deprived housed people to report having chronic diseases such as asthma, heart problems and stroke. They are also prone to a higher-than-average number of long-term health conditions and are old before their time. Levels of frailty – including unintentional weight loss, weakness and low levels of physical activity – among those experiencing homelessness are comparable to 89-year-olds in the general population.
Furthermore, people with no home die young. According to the ONS, the mean age at death of homeless people in 2019 was 46 years for men, 43 years for women as compared to the general population mean age of 76 years for men and 81 years for women.
Just as residents of care homes are at higher clinical risk of severe disease, so are those who use single homeless hostels and other shared homeless accommodation for rough sleepers. Consequently, frontline homelessness workers are also at increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 and of transmitting an infection to the susceptible people they support.
Therefore, during this period