A pandemic of solidarity? This is how people are supporting one another as coronavirus spreads

A Palestinian cashier is helped by her colleague to wear a mask amid coronavirus precautions, in a supermarket in Gaza City March 8, 2020. Picture taken March 8, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem - RC2EGF9WAML5

Communities all around the world are displaying extraordinary levels of comradery to help each other through the COVID-19 pandemic. Image: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Douglas Broom
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This article was updated on 3 April.

  • COVID-19 continues to spread – but it’s bringing out the best in people across the globe.
  • Volunteers are looking out for elderly and vulnerable neighbours.
  • Across Europe, people are singing to one another to keep spirits up, as social distancing and self-isolation become the norm.

When the Chinese city of Wuhan was locked down, residents opened their windows to shout messages of support for their neighbours and beloved city.

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Italians have been taking to their balconies to sing patriotic and uplifting songs. From Turin in the north to Sicily in the south, people are using social media to organize balcony-singing flash mobs, demonstrating their support for one another despite being stuck in their homes.

And a government call in the UK for volunteers to help support the National Health Service saw more than half a million people offer their time - double the 250,000 target.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, so are such displays of social solidarity, with music becoming a key connector.

In the US, brother and sister Taran and Calliope Tien played a private cello concert on the porch for their 78-year-old neighbour Helena Schlam, who is self-isolating at home on her children's insistence.

In the UK, five BBC radio stations all broadcast the same programme simultaneously, inviting listeners to request songs for a nationwide singalong - and send in videos of themselves singing.

In Spain, a prime ministerial TV broadcast announcing a nationwide lockdown and praising the efforts of health workers was followed by people across the country opening their windows to applaud and call out "Viva los medicos" – long live doctors.

The public applause for health workers has also been mimicked in other countries around the world - including Switzerland, Denmark and Brazil.

coronavirus covid-19
Global confirmed coronavirus cases as of 14:40 CET 4 April Image: Johns Hopkins University

Neighbourhood watch

Where people are free to provide practical help, community groups are mobilizing to deliver supplies to elderly people and other vulnerable groups that have been advised to stay indoors to minimize the risk of infection.

Local councils in Wales are recruiting “an army of volunteers” to keep in contact with neighbours who are most at risk and to go shopping for them. In Oxford, England, volunteers have set up the Help Hub to offer online support and reassurance to vulnerable people who are self-isolating. And, in the United States, artist Yadesa Bojia produced Facebook videos translating official coronavirus advice for his fellow Ethiopian Americans.

In Seville, Spain, meanwhile, a fitness instructor held an exercise class for people quarantined in their homes, leading it from the roof of a nearby apartment block where they could all see and follow his moves.


Reaching out

As panic-buying strips the shelves in many stores around the world, Australian retailer Woolworths has announced it will open its stores an hour early to allow elderly and vulnerable people to shop in seclusion so to avoid the risk of cross-infection.

Stores across the UK have taken similar steps, with dedicated shopping times for vulnerable customers, or health service workers.

The owners of a corner shop in Stenhousemuir, Scotland are giving free COVID-19 kits to their elderly neighbours to help protect them from the virus. The kits contain sanitizers, hand wash and face masks.

And a couple in Cornwall, UK, have distributed postcards to elderly neighbours inviting them to get in touch, while offering help with shopping, posting mail and collecting medical supplies. In Manchester, UK, 2,000 people responded in two days to a Facebook appeal for volunteers to help vulnerable people through the crisis.

More than 28,000 people have so far signed up to Adopt a Grandparent at 16 carehomes in Surrey, UK. The scheme run by carehome group CHD was originally intended to pair local families with carehome residents for face-to-face meetings, but it went digital on 23 March, with a call-out for volunteers.

‘Don’t panic’


America's Got Talent finalist Ndlovu Youth Choir from South Africa set the World Health Organization’s (WHO) coronavirus advice to music in their song "Don’t panic: We’ve got this".

WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus boosted its audience by sharing the video on Twitter. He commented: “Here is another beautiful way to share public health advice on #COVID19. Keep up the spirit of solidarity!”

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