VOLUNTEERS in Okehampton are once again stepping up to help the most vulnerable people in town as the country went into lockdown on Tuesday in ‘the final push’ against Covid-19.

With clinically vulnerable people staying home and a virulent new form of the virus in circulation, the support group said they were committed to helping all vulnerable people in the community. People who are ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ — of greater risk if they catch the virus — are advised not to leave their homes even for essentials.

Vaccinations continued in Okehampton on Tuesday, yesterday and today, with the second jabs for those aged over 80 at Okehampton Medical Centre, but defeating the virus looks likely to be months rather than weeks away.

Greta Button, from the group, said: ‘We have got this double whammy this time of getting people jabbed and keeping them safe. We are running exactly the same service as in the first lockdown. We are happy to do shopping and collect prescriptions. If we can’t help we can find someone who can, so please call us and we will help.

‘Okehampton Foodbank and Okehampton Rotary have been brilliant and we will carry on working with them. From our point of view, we want to make the final push to defeat this.

‘We recognise that this time there are more cases. Last time we came out of it relatively unscathed but we recognise that that is not likely to be the case this time. We will do everything we can.’

She added: ‘If anyone needs help, give us a ring. If we can’t fix it we can usually find someone who can.’

She said that the group could always do with help from more volunteers, with jobs that needed doing to be posted on the Covid-19 Support Group Facebook page.

Also a member of the group is county and borough councillor Kevin Ball. He said: ‘As a group we are pleased to continue to support the community, as many other groups in the town are. We ask people to stay safe and follow the guidelines.’

Mayor of Okehampton Cllr Julie Yelland said: ‘First and foremost, I should like to thank everyone reading this for your willingness to look out for each other and support one another over the past incredibly challenging months.  It is thanks to the effort and sacrifices of each and every one of us that the infection rate has remained relatively low in Okehampton and the surrounding area. ‘I know that people are concerned about their jobs, their children’s education and the wellbeing of vulnerable relatives, however, as we enter another lockdown, let’s rise up and stand together once more as a community.  If you find yourself struggling to cope, then please pick up the phone and talk to someone.  ‘We are assured that the vaccine is on its way and, once the programme has been rolled out and people have received their inoculations, we should start to see an easing of the restrictions.  In the meantime, let’s continue to cheer on our key workers, keep in touch with our friends, families and neighbours and pull together to keep the infection rate as low as possible and one another safe.’Brian and Ann Wood, who also volunteer for the support group, were among those running a shuttle bus alongside volunteers for the Okehampton District Community Transport from parking provided at the town hospital to the medical centre. Ann said the atmosphere was positive despite news of lockdown.

‘Most people are so grateful and it is so nice to be here. Some of them have hardly been out for months, so it was a nice little social occasion, socially distanced of course, and a nice atmosphere.

‘One of them said to me, now they have done us, they can get on and vaccinate the healthcare workers and I said I think that is the plan. Everyone I spoke to was so pleased to get the vaccine so quickly and I think the medical centre deserves praise for organising it.’

Paul and Isobel Jarrett at Okehampton Foodbank are anticipating more demand on their services in the coming weeks but are hopeful of ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.

Paul said: ‘We are anticipating an increase in requests for food parcels. Lockdown 3 has made a tough situation tougher. We are already helping a few people who need help due to being unable to work during lockdown and the children being home. The foodbank is ready to meet the demand thanks to the generosity of people who donate money, food and time.

‘What we all have to remember is that the darkest hour of the night is just before the dawn, and though we have entered another lockdown there is light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccines being rolled out.’

Schools are now shut to all but vulnerable children and the children of essential workers while people are being told to stay home, only exercise once a day and shop for essentials and medicines only. Pubs, cafes and non-essential shops were also forced to close from Tuesday, dealing another blow to hospitality and retail after a difficult Christmas and New Year.

Devon’s public health chief Steve Brown urged everyone to follow the new restrictions.

‘Devon residents have done well over the Christmas and New Year period to help prevent the sharp rise in positive cases that many other parts of the country are currently experiencing,’ he said. ‘While case numbers here in Devon are relatively low compared to many parts of the country, we are still seeing cases rise.‘The new strain of coronavirus is exceptionally good at spreading between people, which is why the Government is imposing new national restrictions requiring everyone to stay at home as much as possible and to minimise their time with others, except those in their immediate household or bubble.’Central Devon MP Mel Stride said: ‘Sadly the greater infectivity of the new strain of the virus and the surge in hospital admissions means that the lockdown is necessary. We must now get the vaccine out as quickly as possible especially amongst higher risk groups. In time we will turn this around.’The infection rate in Devon is still among the lowest in England, but it is rising, currently standing at 152.4 cases per 100,000 people in the population.

The Okehampton Covid-19 Support Group can be contacted on 07707 565612.