UK coronavirus: 170,000 NHS volunteers sign up in one night to combat Covid-19

The UK call for volunteers came as the military was also deployed to bolster the UK’s battle against the coronavirus.

epa08320604 A sign indicates directions to a Coronavirus pod at a hospital in London, Britain, 25 March 2020. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that Britons can only leave their homes for essential reasons or may be fined, in order to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus.  EPA/ANDY RAIN
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A call by UK government for 250,000 NHS volunteers to join the battle against coronavirus has been met with an overwhelming response as 170,000 people signed up overnight.

The volunteers are needed to help the 1.5 million individuals who have been asked by the government to shield themselves from the coronavirus because of underlying health conditions.

The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called on the country’s most vulnerable to the disease to isolate for 12 weeks as part of Britain’s attempts to alleviate pressure on the health service.

Overnight, a total of 170,000 people have signed up to be volunteers for the NHS, according to a senior doctor.

Stephen Powis, NHS England medical director, said three volunteers a minute had registered to help.

"It's an absolutely astonishing response," he said.

"This is a health emergency, we can all play a role in ensuring we get on top of coronavirus and at the same time expand capacity in the NHS," Mr Powis added.

Any member of the British public who is over the age of 18, fit and healthy and non-symptomatic can sign up on the health service’s website to become part of the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme.

Those who register can be called on to do simple but vital tasks such as delivering medicines from pharmacies, driving patients to appointments and bringing them home from hospital. Volunteers could also be asked to make regular phone calls to check on people isolating at home.

The NHS Volunteer Responders scheme is not intended to replace local groups helping their vulnerable neighbours but is an additional service provided by the NHS.

GPs, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, midwives, NHS 111 advisers and social care staff will all be able to request help for their at-risk patients.

“In these extraordinary times, it’s essential that we all pull together as part of the national effort to protect the most vulnerable, reduce pressures on our NHS and care system and save lives,” UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

“If you are well and able to do so safely, I would urge you to sign up today to help the most vulnerable people in our communities as an NHS Volunteer Responder,” he added.

The UK is scrambling to adapt to the mounting health crisis posed by Covid-19. The volunteer scheme was launched as another 87 people died of the virus, bringing the overall UK death toll to 422. There are now more than 8,000 confirmed cases in the country.

At the same time, British military forces have also become a visible presence on the streets of London with 20,000 troops reportedly on standby.

Members of the 101 Logistics brigade have been called in to deliver protective equipment, including face masks, to NHS staff.

The military is also converting the ExCeL London, a venue in east London, into a pop-up hospital to treat the country's sick during the coronavirus outbreak.

Major General Timothy Cross, who ran Nato's emergency relief operation in Kosovo and Macedonia in the 1990s, said it was a "big process" to create a field hospital, but said that the military was used to such undertakings.

The first patients at the site are expected to be admitted next week.

Members of the military, part of the Covid-19 support force, are also next week due to start running the NHS Nightingale hospital, which has capacity to treat 4,000 coronavirus patients across two super wards.