AS CORONAVIRUS takes hold across the country, the Okehampton community has pledged to stand strong and fight together.

More than 150 community volunteers have banded together to help those self-isolating in their own homes, from delivering emergency supplies and collecting prescriptions to dog walking or a friendly chat on the phone.

A phone line manned by volunteers went live on Wednesday morning, thanks to donations from the Round Table and the Co-op. It comes as people over 70 or in poor health are urged to stay at home and avoid social contact to avoid contracting the virus.

The coronavirus support group is being spearheaded by Rebecca Green.

Rebecca said: ‘The Okehampton community has responded to the need in style. We can do this and support our area practically and mentally. Isolation sucks.

‘Thank you for responding. Please share the word and crucially look out for people who are not online. Don’t struggle alone because Okehampton cares.

‘When it is all over we will remember how we all worked together, made new friends and how we can do it again if we ever need to.’

She added: ‘We have had kind donations from the Co-op and Okehampton Round Table that help us set up our phone line and immediate support to those without the internet or access to help elsewhere that are already required to self isolate.’

She urged anyone who was self-isolating to contact the group via the phone number 07707 565612 or Facebook page ‘Okehampton Coronavirus — Covid 19 Volunteer Group’.

‘The aim is to support those in self isolation as it increases and not discussion about Covid 19 or medical advice,’ added Rebecca. ‘We are already finding people with compromised immune systems are staying at home. You can’t see a compromised immune system so this could be people you wouldn’t expect. Someone you’ve not seen around for a while? Worth checking they are ok.’

Meanwhile the Okehampton Times will be reporting the news as usual. Although staff will be working from home, they are available on all the normal telephone numbers and email addresses so please share your stories and experiences with us — we want to report the good news as well as bad and will be running features to help keep the high street alive.

While the Government advised people to avoid social gathering and events, sporting fixtures and major community events were cancelled, including the Okehampton Lantern Parade which should have taken place on Friday evening. An appeal has gone out for anyone who can store the lanterns.

Organiser Marilyn Tucker said: ‘We are very disappointed but we want to keep everyone safe. All the lanterns will kept and we will stage the event later in the year when things have settled down a bit.’

Okehampton Medical Centre is limiting people attending the surgery, with no more face-to-face appointments booked from tomorrow (Friday). Instead, patients are urged to consult the doctors online in the first instance via eConsult. Those who would struggle to do this can call the surgery for a member of staff to complete the form on their behalf.

‘The new system will also allow us to manage demand for appointments more effectively and safely through the coronavirus pandemic,’ said senior partner Dr Tim Watson. ‘This change will allow us to make better use of GPs’ time and to prioritise the care of patients who need it most.’

He said those who needed to see a doctor would have a face-to-face appointment or phone consultation.

‘Depending on the urgency of the situation that could take place the same day,’ he added. People who suspect that they have coronavirus, with symptoms including a new continuous cough and high temperature, are being asked to self-isolate with the rest of their household for 14 days, the incubation period of the virus and consult the NHS 111 online coronavirus service for more information.

Okehampton Town Council has also shut its offices in the town hall ‘for an undetermined period of time’ due to the coronavirus outbreak, with staff working from home still contactable on 01837 53179.

‘Predetermined council policy means that the council is prepared for emergency situations and for members of staff to work from home in order to maintain services to the best of their ability during this difficult time,’ said town clerk Emma James.

Meanwhile, the schools remain open in Okehampton and the surrounding villages, although severe teacher shortages could see that change.

A county council spokesperson said: ‘The Government has decided that schools should remain open right now, and schools will take their direction from them.

‘Public Health England will advise individual schools that have confirmed cases on the most appropriate actions to take.’

Elsewhere, Devonians in exile were looking on the unfolding crisis from afar. Among them is Professor Nick Groom of South Zeal, who has under lockdown due to coronavirus where he is teaching English literature at a university in Macau, China since the beginning of the year.

His wife Jo Parker-Groom said that there had been ten cases of coronavirus in Macau, but just as the UK crisis had escalated, Macau had been given the all-clear.

‘He went out there on January 2 to start the new job and was only there a fortnight when everything shut down,’ she said. ‘We were going to go out at Easter, I was going to go and take the children, who are eight and ten, but we couldn’t. Now he can’t come home because we have it here.’

Louise Sweet, who comes from Iddesleigh has witnessed the full force of the virus in northern Italy where the death toll has now reached 2,100.

Writing from Pavia near Milan where she teaches in the medical facility at the university, she said: ‘I would urge all people in Devon communities to self isolate if they have the opportunity to do so.

‘They should not be made to feel like they are overreacting in taking this decision. It is the only thing they can do to fully protect themselves.

‘Anything that can be done to halt the spread by each one of us now will take the pressure off the services that are available when a peak situation happens.’