The first food boxes have been delivered to the 1.5 million vulnerable people the government has told should stay at home for 12 weeks to protect themselves from coronavirus.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced that the first 2,000 deliveries have been made this weekend to those who cannot leave their homes because severe health conditions leave them most vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus.
As many as 50,000 boxes are expected to go out this week. The department said hundreds of thousands of boxes could be delivered each week, depending on demand as the shielding policy for vulnerable people continues.
People on the "shielded patients list" of people who have been told not to go outside for their own safety include people on long-term immune suppression therapy because they have had an organ transplant, people with severe respiratory conditions and people with some types of cancer. Under the shielding guidance, they have also been told to minimise all non-essential contact with other members of their household.
The packages contain essential food and household items such as pasta, fruit, tinned goods and biscuits, and toilet paper for vulnerable people who have no support network of family or friends to help them. Parcels will be left on the doorstep to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.
In the last week, 900,000 extremely vulnerable people have received letters from the NHS giving them guidance on how to shield from coronavirus. In total up to 1.5 million will be asked to be shielded in this way. Others who did not receive letters but think they are part of this clinically vulnerable group have been advised to contact their GP.
The food packages are part of the support network for this group being established by MHCLG, working with local government and local resilience forums, communities secretary Robert Jenrick said.
The deliveries represent “the start of extraordinary steps to support the most clinically vulnerable, while they shield from coronavirus”, he added.
“We will support these people at this difficult time, and the scale of an operation like that has not been seen since the Second World War.
“This is an unprecedented package of support and I want to thank the food suppliers, local councils and everyone who has come together to create this essential service in just a matter of days.”
Food suppliers Bidfood and Brakes have been involved in developing the food parcels.
Bidfood chief executive Andrew Selley and Brakes chief exec Hugo Mahoney said their firms were coming together to work with the government at a time of national crisis.
“In these difficult times, we’re proud to join forces and play such a vital role in supporting people in need during their period of isolation,” they said. “Together we are experts in food service and our distribution networks reach into every corner of the country. Our highly professional drivers and warehouse teams will be keeping the wheels turning in this vital national endeavour.”
Medicines will be delivered by community pharmacies and groceries and essential household items by food distributers, working with supermarkets.