British pharmacies launched a codeword on Thursday to tackle a feared spike in domestic violence during lockdown, telling victims to "ask for ANI" at the counter to secretly summon help.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the initiative, supported by more than 2,500 pharmacies, would provide a lifeline to people trapped at home with abusive partners or family members in the third national lockdown.
"As we once again have to ask people across the country to stay at home to tackle this virus, it's vital that we take action to protect those for who home is not a safe space," he said.
"ANI" stands for Action Needed Immediately yet also sounds like the name Annie - letting victims raise an alarm without tipping off an abuser when shopping, often their only trip out.
Trained pharmacy staff will then provide a private space, phone and check if the customer needs police or other services.
NO SAFE PLACE
COVID-19 lockdowns led to a dramatic rise in domestic abuse around the world last year.
Johnson has said anyone in danger at home is free to leave in a strict, seven-week lockdown imposed on Jan 5 to curb rocketing rates of a fast-mutating virus.
The scheme follows similar initiatives in countries including Spain, Italy and Argentina.
Nearly 2 million people a year, mostly women, suffer some form of domestic abuse in Britain, according to official data.
Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, welcomed the initiative, urging everyone to be vigilant for signs of suffering.
"It can be extremely difficult to seek help when you are with a perpetrator almost 24 hours a day - as many victims are under the current lockdown," she added.
The scheme is supported by the high-street chemist Boots, with 2,300 stores, as well as 255 independent pharmacies.
The government also announced reforms enabling police to impose strict conditions on suspects who are released during abuse investigations to stop any further intimidation.
And it called on companies to look for signs of domestic abuse among staff, be it sudden behavioural changes, reduced performance or new physical marks.