London: As financially-insecure people around the world scramble to protect themselves amid the coronavirus outbreak, homeless Londoners have been offered a respite.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, with financial support from the government, has secured 300 hotel rooms for homeless people in London "sleeping rough", to isolate themselves over the coming weeks, stated a press release.
Britain, which previously faced flak for its relaxed measures as COVID-19 spread across Europe, has reported 281 fatalities till now. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday asked people to maintain social distancing and "keep two metres apart".
Among the allies supporting Khan's efforts are two on the forefront -- the Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) and black cab drivers.
While IHG has block-booked rooms in two London hotels for the next 12 weeks, black cab drivers working through two apps -- FreeNow and Gett -- have volunteered to transport such people between support services.
As part of a trial period, homeless people sleeping on the streets, those already identified by charities, were moved to these rooms over the weekend.
The rooms are being provided at a "substantially discounted rate" to the homeless, who are known to harbour more health problems, including respiratory disorders.
Khan's team will ensure proactive effort to ensure more such bookings whenever needed. The work is being carried out in consultation with London's boroughs and Ministry of Housing.
“The coronavirus outbreak affects everyone in London and we must do all we can to safeguard everyone’s health – not least those Londoners who face spending each night sleeping rough on the capital’s streets," said Khan.
“Rough sleepers already face difficult and uncertain lives and I’m determined to do all I can to ensure they, along with all Londoners, are given the best protection possible," he added.
Director of Rough Sleeping services at St Mungo’s, Petra Salva, said, “Our teams are working round the clock to support all people sleeping rough into emergency rooms where they can isolate and be kept safe during this unprecedented crisis."
Selva also asked people to refer any such person in need via StreetLink, or to connect them with local services. "Call 999 in a health emergency," she said.
"London cabbies have always been there to help those in need," said General Secretary at Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, Steve McNamara.
He said black cabs were the "right vehicles" for the crisis, designed to be easily cleaned and sterilised. "It has a partition separating passengers from drivers," he said.
"I'm delighted so many black cab drivers have signed up, and that we are doing our bit to keep the most vulnerable people on our streets safe."
London Councils’ Executive Member for Housing & Planning, Cllr Darren Rodwell, said London, which had the highest number of homeless people in the UK, was also facing the largest swathe of coronavirus infections.
"Boroughs are working flat out to support rough sleepers, but there’s a severe shortage of suitable accommodation. This is a crucial initiative and boroughs will continue working with the Mayor and other partners to secure desperately needed rooms during the Covid-19 emergency,” he said.