Parts of the Fairfield Halls, the borough’s leisure centres and even Fisher’s Folly could be transformed over the weekend into emergency shelters for rough sleepers, under the latest government edict in an effort to limit the spread of the deadly covid-19 virus.
The news came on the day that Gatwick Airport announced it is to close its North Terminal from next week, and followed the worst day yet for deaths of patients with coronavirus at Croydon’s Mayday Hospital.
Councils across England and Wales, including Croydon, have received a notification telling them “communal night shelters and any street encampments” must be “closed down for the time being” as they are “high-risk” for spreading covid-19.
Dame Louise Casey, an adviser on homelessness to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said the aim is that “everybody can have an offer of accommodation by this weekend”.
Rough sleepers are significantly more likely to have underlying health conditions – including respiratory problems – than the wider population, making them more vulnerable to the worst effects of the virus.
Which is where the currently “dark” Fairfield Halls and other public spaces in Croydon come in. Fisher’s Folly, as Bernard Wetherill House is almost universally known among council staff, has in the past provided emergency accommodation for Croydon residents during the Purley and Kenley floods of 2014.
In her notification to local authorities, Dame Louise wrote: “We are all redoubling our efforts to do what we possibly can at this stage to ensure that everybody is inside and safe by this weekend, and we stand with you in this.
“These are unusual times so I’m asking for an unusual effort.
“Many areas of the country have already been able to ‘safe harbour’ their people, which is incredible. What we need to do now though is work out how we can get ‘everyone in’.”
The government’s move has been welcomed by homelessness charity Shelter as “the right thing to do”.
Meanwhile, with most flights suspended, Gatwick said that the unprecedented move to close its North Terminal was necessary to protect staff and the business, as its revenues all but vanish.
The terminal will be closed for at least the next month.
Figures from the NHS show that yesterday had the highest number yet of confirmed cases with coronavirus, with 2,000, bringing the national total to 10,000. Yesterday’s figures ought to have included Prince Charles, though Johnson, health secretary Matt Hancock and chief medical officer Chris Whitty will be among today’s statistics, as the virus proves it is not too fussy who it infects.
By yesterday, Croydon had had 181 confirmed cases of coronavirus – a rate of 47 per 100,000 of population. This is similar to the rates in neighbouring Bromley (149 cases; 45 per ‘00,000), but much higher than Sutton, which has had 54 cases (26 per ‘00,000).
Our inner London neighbouring boroughs, Lambeth and Southwark, though, according to last night’s update, are seeing the spread increase rapidly. Lambeth has 248 cases (76 per ‘00,000) and Southwark has the highest infection rate in the capital, at 253 (79.7 per ‘00,000).
There have been 20 coronavirus-related deaths at Mayday Hospital this week: one on Monday (Mar 23), seven on Tuesday (Mar 24), two on Wednesday (Mar 25) and then 10 yesterday (Mar 26).
The pandemic emergency is seeing the hospital implement some special measures to help staff better cope with the rising number of cases.
Elaine Clancy, chief nurse at the trust said: “All our staff are working non-stop to care for local people affected by covid-19, and readying our services for any surge in cases.
“In line with national NHS guidance, we are scaling-back non-urgent appointments and looking at new ways in which we can run routine appointments with patients by phone or screen.
“We are also dramatically increasing our critical care capacity to provide life-dependent respiratory support to patients when needed.”
The public is asked to stay away from the hospital to avoid spreading of the virus, with strict new rules prohibiting visitors on adult wards.
Women in labour and children will be allowed a limited number of visitors.
A maternity helpline (07976 681775) has been set up which will be staffed from 8am-6pm for urgent questions related to covid-19. Pregnant women with coronavirus symptoms who need urgent assessment or are in labour need to call ahead so that staff can prepare, on 020 8401 3853 or 3180.
“This is a rapidly changing and challenging situation and we are reviewing all of the measures we are taking to ensure the continued safety of our patients and our staff,” Clancy said.
“We have been bowled over by the many messages of thanks and the generosity of people in Croydon who have shown their support. This means so much to our staff right now, and you can continue to help us by spreading the message to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus.”
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