Charities say they need “urgent advice” from experts to help protect rough sleepers and homeless people against the spread of coronavirus.
With more cases being confirmed in the UK every day, organisations who work with those who spend time on the streets want to do everything they can to keep them safe.
Two of the biggest charities, Shelter and Crisis, say they have contacted health officials to ask for advice, but are still awaiting official guidance.
Greg Beales, campaigns director at Shelter, said: “Obviously the situation with coronavirus is very serious and changing every day.
“There is a need for rapid advice, and we are urgently waiting for Public Health England to issue clear guidance on what people who are sleeping rough or living in shared hostel accommodation should do if they might be affected. We will provide an update as soon as we know more.”
The UK government announced on Thursday it had moved into the “delay” phase of response, after failing to simply “contain” the disease.
Pathway, a charity which offers healthcare support to homeless people and rough sleepers, said: “People who are unhoused are more at risk when a public health or natural disaster emergency occurs.
“The spread of communicable disease can be swift for people without adequate access to hygiene facilities or a safe home.”
It added in a statement: “Pathway is aware, from UK public health authorities, that the current outbreak of Covid-19 spreads in much the same way as flu – through person to person contact, especially through droplets in the air produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The disease can be spread by touching an object that has been infected and then touching your nose, mouth, or eyes. It is believed people are most contagious when exhibiting symptoms.”
Pathway has called on the government to ensure there are “adequate contingency plans in place” if the virus spreads further, “specifically for homeless people sleeping rough and people housed in hostels, that can be rapidly acted upon”.
“Local authorities will need to provide quarantine accommodation as well as adequate support and advice,” it added.
“Reiterating transmission advice and initiating extra cleaning, and distribution of hand sanitisers to protect others could also become necessary. This would need to be adequately coordinated and funded.”
Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty told the Commons’ health and social care committee on Thursday that at the beginning, it was hoped that the virus could have been contained mainly within China with a few outbreaks elsewhere and once the authorities got on top of it the Covid-19 would go away.
But he said: “That is becoming an extraordinarily unlikely long-term outcome.
“We are not completely there and it is important to acknowledge that for ‘contain’ we need to have an international view about what we do about this.
“This is something which we should, in a sense, take the views of other nations as well as our own.
“But I think we need to be realistic about the fact that with so many different outbreaks, containing looks pretty optimistic.”
HuffPost UK has approached Public Health England for comment.