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Corona Diaries: The Spiky Blob – Branding the Coronavirus

The day after the CDC launched its emergency operations center for the new coronavirus Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgins were asked to make an illustration of the virus to give it an identity. Something eye-catching to get the public’s attention which could be used as the ‘face’ of the epidemic.

As CDC medical illustrators, they use art to make difficult medical concepts more accessible. They’ve created images for viruses before like Zika and Ebola, so this was a regular job and they weren’t expecting their work to go global. But, as the pandemic spread, the image started to show up on screens everywhere, “it started popping up around the world.”

I can’t remember the branding for Zika and Ebola – just did a quick Google search – ah, the red mosquito, but this coronavirus, with its red spikes, orange and yellow crumbs has burrowed into my brain. I’m not dreaming about it yet, but I am hypnotised when the news comes on. It also pops into your head at random moments like when someone invades your personal space or when you reach for something in the supermarket – a reminder to be careful as viruses can live on surfaces for up to three days. Doktor Zoom has been photoshopping it into all the images of Donald Trump…

How did they do it? They took a different approach to create this image – a detailed solo ‘beauty shot’ to highlight one virus and bring it to life. The texture and shadows give it depth and you can imagine how spiky it feels. It also had to work with other branding materials for COVID-19 so they chose red/grey with orange/yellow dots as it was the most arresting, “it just really stood out.”

“The novel coronavirus, like all viruses, is covered with proteins that give it its character and traits. There are the spike proteins, or S-proteins — the red clusters in the image — which allow the virus to attach to human cells. Envelope or E-proteins, represented by yellow crumbs, help it get into those cells. And membrane proteins, or M-proteins, shown in orange, give the virus its form.”

It’s an iconic image and the most powerful piece of branding so far in 2020. How remarkable that it was created in just a week.

A visual reminder to #StayHomeStaySafe. Alissa is happy that “it’s out there doing its job.”

I’ve used it to illustrate my Corona Diaries posts – here’s the full credit info: CDC/Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS.

More on her work at CDC in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zszPyKtBVJg&feature=youtu.be

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Corona Diaries: Workers Who Fall Through the Cracks

Thank you, Harriet Harman!

The Labour MP for Camberwell & Peckham has written a letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak on behalf of self-employed creatives who fall through the cracks re government support for coronavirus.

Picture 1

“I am writing to ask what further provision you are considering for these self-employed people who fall between the two schemes and to register my backing of Equity’s proposals to address this issue.

“I am concerned that many self-employed people, those working on a series of fixed-term PAYE contracts and those operating as limited companies are not eligible. This will disproportionally hit those in the creative industries.” Well said 🙏.

The government has done a fantastic job pulling support schemes together at speed during this crisis. Inevitably there will be holes and not everyone is eligible. As a sole director/limited company, I fall through the cracks. I was due to start a second contract via an agency which has now been withdrawn. See this thread on LinkedIn from workers who fall through the cracks. “I’ve been working for a year. I don’t regard myself as new.” – a PR/comms consultant messaged me.

Picture 2If you’re in the same boat, here’s Martin Lewis, MoneySavingExpert.com. More advice in his guide here.

Picture 3So, you may be able to furlough PAYE pay – i.e. get 80% of salary up to £2,500 a month. This isn’t likely to be huge as most earn more via dividends (no help there), but it’s something, and you can combine it with universal credit. But only if your PAYE scheme was created on or before 28 February 2020. And with Universal Credit, what happens if you have money set aside in your business account to pay tax/running costs and are over the savings threshold? Are you then ineligible for support? I’ve asked for clarification as many contractors will be in this position.

If I do furlough myself then technically, I can’t work for ‘the firm’, I can only perform statutory director’s obligations e.g. official legal filings. That’s not practical. I can’t not work for three months – I’ll have no business. I’m constantly pitching ideas, networking, marketing myself online, applying for contracts etc. Am I supposed to write letters to  ‘furlough’ myself and then ‘employ’ myself again? It sounds bonkers! It’s also unfair that sole traders are eligible for a grant AND can carry on working but the same rule doesn’t apply to sole directors. Many of us have no option other than to incorporate as Ltd to get agency work. This is one thing that could be changed along with abolishing the savings rule for Universal Credit for the interim, and including dividends in PAYE income. IPSE has some good ideas here.

The other option is to apply for a Business Interruption Loan – open from 6 April 2020 and now expanded to include SMEs who didn’t meet the criteria before. This is the last resort as I’m debt-averse these days. I don’t have an overdraft and I wouldn’t be eligible as I’m paying off debt and can’t take out credit.

So, it looks like it’s Universal Credit or nothing – if I’m eligible. As Harriet Harman points out in her letter: “Current government advice is [for her] to sign up to Universal Credit which doesn’t cover her monthly rent, let alone bills or food.

“There can be no justification for self-employed workers to not receive the same level of support as employed throughout this Coronavirus crisis.

“The creative industries contribute over £100bn to the UK economy and are vital for our culture and global identity. When this crisis is over, we will need this industry to be strong and at the forefront of our economic recovery.”

Thank you to Harriet Harman, Tracy Brabin and the many other MPs and business leaders who are lobbying and campaigning to give self-employed creative workers a voice. It is much appreciated.

Have a question for Rishi? Use the hashtag #AskRishi on Twitter. The best way to engage with MPs and government is via Twitter.

Picture 4

Picture 5

The Guardian: Millions in UK ‘could slip through virus wage safety net.

 

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Corona Diaries: Government Package for the Self-employed – are you happy with it?

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has just announced outline details of the rescue package for the self-employed.

Here’s a summary of the key points from Daniel Barnett Employment Law:

  • a newly self-employed income support scheme will pay self-employed people a taxable grant worth 80% of average monthly income, capped at £2,500pm
  • income will be calculated by taking the average income over the last three years
  • self-employed people can claim these grants and continue to do business (so, it’s not the same as furlough leave, where employees have to remain at home)
  • the scheme is open to anyone with trading profits of up to £50k (this covers 95% of self-employed people). Self-employed people who earn more will not qualify
  • the scheme is only open to those who make the majority of income from self-employment; if you are employed but have a ‘side job’ which is self-employed, you will not be eligible
  • the scheme is only open to those who have submitted a tax return for 2019 (to minimise fraud). However, those who did not submit their tax return by the due date of 31 January 2020, and have not yet submitted one, can still submit a tax return for 2019 within a further four weeks from today
  • there are no steps to take. HMRC will contact eligible self-employed people directly and pay the grant straight into their bank account after inviting them to fill out an online form
  • the self-employed income support scheme will be open to people across the UK for at least three months. However, the scheme is unlikely to be up and running before the end of June, so it will not help with immediate cash flow issues

Seems like a fair and generous package in line with what’s being offered to employees, but not all freelancers will be eligible.

Initial thoughts from my NUJ colleagues:

“I’ve just watched Sunak’s briefing, and am relatively pleased with what has been announced. It doesn’t go far enough to help those at the bottom of the freelance earnings scale, but the timescale for payments notwithstanding, by large it seems fair and reasonable.

Sunak claims that the scheme will benefit “95%” of the self-employed and stated clearly that the remaining 5% are those with profits of over 50K/year who won’t be ineligible for the income support grant. But what about those who, say, became self-employed in the last tax year, and have savings? They cannot claim Universal Credit. Sunak’s 95:5% ratio cannot be correct, and I suspect a significant number of self-employed will suffer.” Dr Francis Sedgemore, Chair, NUJ Freelance Industrial Council

“Sky News reported that only a third of freelancers could be eligible, something to do with them paying comparatively less tax.

Ltd companies are apparently not eligible, those who already received top-ups from Universal Credit, moved to UC from existing benefits like Working Tax Credits, (I know of several freelancers in this position) not eligible.

Twitter is already full of a lot of people who became self-employed since the beginning of the last year tax year who are ineligible, there seem to be a lot of these around, possibly a higher number than anyone imagined.

The money will be with freelancers by the beginning of June, backdated, but what are freelancers supposed to do until then?

Those who earn very slightly more in employment than in self-employment in the last tax year are also ineligible.” Matt Salusbury, NUJ London Freelance Branch Chair, Deputy Editor, The Freelance

“It’s certainly more complex than the headline leads us to believe. I’ve seen a lot of people express concern that that due to starting freelancing recently or having time out for caring/illness that they will miss out on this package.

Some photographers will have high overheads for studio/office rent, equipment lease fees, insurances and software.” Dr Natasha Hirst, Photographer, Freelance Industrial Council  

NUJ statement here.

And from Caroline Norbury, CEO of the Creative Industries Federation and Creative England:

“We are seeking urgent clarity for those creative workers who may be most in need and fall between these schemes including those who commenced self- employment after April 2019, recent graduates, those paid in dividends, temporary workers and those short-term contractors normally paid by PAYE. We must ensure that these packages are truly comprehensive and accessible to all.”

Lots of chat about this on Twitter – the main concern seems to be that nothing will be paid until June. What do people do until then? Can you apply for Universal Credit to tide you over? What if you’re above the savings threshold? Newly registered as self-employed? Or a contractor or a sole director/small limited company like me – and therefore not eligible? Not all sole directors are like Boris’ mates!

I asked my accountant Elaine Clark for advice and she sent me this post. Martin Lewis is on the case finding out about sole traders who are a Ltd company and whether they can get help through the Government package. In the meantime, let’s keep making noise on Twitter.

Send your questions/comments to @NUJOfficial @NUJ_LFB @Bectu @Creative_Fed @EquityUK @CarolineNorbury @TracyBrabinMP @IPSEWestminster @RishiSunak and tag me @niccitalbot.

It’s Friday. It’s spring – don’t forget the clocks go forward. Enjoy the sunshine and have a relaxing weekend.  

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

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Corona Diaries: Day 1 of Lockdown (Artist in Residence)

Day 1 of my ‘Artist in Residency’ – a nicer way of looking at it. Thanks to Sky Dylan-Robbins, Executive Director, Video Consortium, who said, “Despite the anxiety that today’s torrents of bad news may induce, there’s something to be said for taking a moment to breathe, reassess, and do something we haven’t had time to pursue.” Yes! Like announcing on Twitter that I’m going to be learning Italian over the next three months to show solidarity.

27 million people in the UK watched Boris’ historic speech last night enforcing a lockdown and telling us we must stay at home. Sound speech, clear messaging and tagline – “Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.” Note the wartime language: “In this fight, each and every one of us is directly enlisted. On the frontline. Beat the virus. An army of volunteers.” A bit belated, he’s clearly in anguish at having to take these measures, but they are necessary given that the UK saw its highest number of coronavirus deaths in one day, with 87 dying in 24 hours. I’m glad we’re finally joining the rest of Europe. 

Woke up at 6.30 am with the sun streaming through the window, dogs barking and birds singing. It’s not great timing, is it? We’ve been stuck indoors for months due to crap weather, and now, just as everything’s coming back to life, it looks like we’re going to be inside for another three months. Still, I’m not running a marathon on my balcony like that fabulous Frenchman – our restrictions aren’t that draconian.

1.18 pm: text from GOV.UK: “CORONAVIRUS ALERT. New rules in force now: you must stay at home. More info & exemptions at gov.uk/coronavirus. Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.” 

Slight confusion about messaging. The fam all had the same text advising them to stay at home. ‘You may get additional advice on your health condition shortly’. My mum thought this was irresponsible “cos people will be led to believe they are on the 1.5 million list of at-risk people when the text appears to be a confirmation of government policy to the population as a whole. Loads of folk will be panicking for nowt!”

Friend texted in despair after spending 2.5 hours on hold trying to get through to the Universal Credit helpline for some advice. “There’s no other way to continue a claim than to call them. The system is going to stop loads from getting any help at all.” 

Working from home: everyone seems to be using Zoom for online meetings – positive feedback, it’s easy to use. £11.99 for small sessions of up to 100. There’s also a free option, which apparently ends calls after 40 minutes (sounds like an excellent productivity tool!). One of my clients (retail trade body) is digitising its platform for members so we’re exploring webinars, online conferencing, and a portal/forum as all physical events are on hold. Great to see lots of positive news/PR stories coming out about retail and how ‘self-isolation is changing our gifting style’, i.e. we’re buying more gift cards to help loved ones feel better. I’ve already bought three this month for birthdays and Mother’s Day. 

So, I’ll be working on a ‘sunny news blog’ for the retail/gifting world with positive stories. There’s also a free school meals initiative for coronavirus which involves gift cards, so lots of scope for retailers.

Funny how having a tight brief for a client or a ‘lockdown’ in this case helps with creativity – we have to work with what we have so there’s less room for procrastination. As Douglas R Hofstadter said, “I suspect that the welcoming of constraints is, at bottom, the deepest secret of creativity.”

Update on self-employment: 

Proposed amendment to the Coronavirus Bill: “Statutory Self-employment Pay”. If it’s accepted, it compels the government to introduce Regulations for freelancers: 80% of their monthly net earnings, averaged over the last three years OR £2,197 per month, whichever is lower. Write to your MP to support this: ow.ly/53iz50yUow7 – more news on self-employment tomorrow.

5 pm: Had a jog to Bexhill. Seafront was full of joggers, dog walkers, and bikes… cycling is going to be huge this year. Older people are great at social distancing, but millennials don’t seem to have the hang of it yet and carry on walking straight towards you, so I had to do a bit of dodging. It’s nothing personal, but I don’t want to catch this, thanks. Popped into the Co-op on the way home for loo roll and eggs (max 15 people at a time, self-employed bouncer on the door). Empty shelves, which is no surprise, but now the wine shelf and fridges have been stripped bare too. It’s official: the UK’s holing up for three weeks. 

Why aren’t retail staff wearing masks? I’ve been in all the supermarkets, and none of the checkout staff or security are wearing them. The chaps in the corner shops are. This is madness given the number of people they are coming into contact with and the delivery drivers bringing in new stock. We should be looking after these people as well as our NHS staff: they’re on the ‘retail frontline’ after all, and they have to put up with the public all day long…

8 pm: Channel 4 News. The teen on group chat with her mates all night, trying to host a Netflix party. Few tech glitches so it didn’t work, but we’ll try again tonight. Great idea, Netflix!

Some positive news:

After tweeting Dr Mark Ali (Private Harley Street Clinic) to suggest he should offer free COVID-19 testing for frontline workers, I see there’s been a massive backlash about him profiteering from a national crisis. He’s now lost his contract with the supplier so no private testing on his website. Still, he’s made a packet in a few weeks – perhaps he could donate some to the NHS.  

ExCel Centre in London to be turned into coronavirus hospital for up to 4,000 patients

Coronavirus: Joe Wicks keeps children fit with online PE classes

Your NHS Needs You – NHS call for a volunteer army. Join the GoSAM App. 405,000 recruits in one day! I’ll make calls and write letters of hope. 

Free Minecraft education pack to help kids stuck in quarantine. Armchair travel to the international space station and the inside of the human eye. 

Coronavirus: Can Couples Meet up? Couples should test their strength of feeling over whether to isolate together is the official advice from England’s deputy chief medical officer. “Couples need to make a choice and stick with it.”  

Company gives away 100,000 free sex toys and gifts to women stuck in self-isolation

Prada: the latest fashion brand to make medical face masks. Great to see the big brands making medical face masks, hand sanitiser, and funding studies into coronavirus and immunity and intensive care units. 

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Corona Diaries: How to Keep Your Business on Track

I’ve just finished six months of voluntary self-isolation writing a book, so it’s bizarre to find myself facing another one with COVID-19. Major new measures have been announced to protect people at highest risk of coronavirus, so I’ll be getting a letter this week asking me to stay at home for at least 12 weeks, as I take immuno-suppressants for rheumatoid arthritis. I work from home so it’s not a huge change to my daily routine, but I am feeling anxious about the lack of financial support for freelancers, and how I’m going to work and home-school a teenager in a small flat. I washed her school uniform last night – “Bin it!” she said gleefully, “I won’t be needing it.” 

One freelance colleague has lost £1,000 of photography bookings. Another, an events manager, has had all of her work cancelled. I’m lucky that I can work remotely for clients but some of my work has fallen off. I was due to start a three-month part-time contract to finish off the book – not heard a peep, and other work – also events-based, has stalled. I’ve put money aside for tax and other contingencies, but it’s not enough to see me through months of upheaval. Last week the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced various measures to help companies and employees. Still, there’s not much support for creative freelancers and the five million self-employed in the UK. 

Employees have a guaranteed 80% of their income, up to £2,500 a month. In contrast, the self-employed have so far been advised to claim Statutory Sick Pay at £94.25 a week or Universal Credit, which is a minefield when you have unpredictable earnings. The eligibility criteria for UC include savings, which means those who set aside money for tax may be ineligible. Oliver Heald MP has said that Sunak will make a statement on the self-employed on Monday. Fingers crossed as so many of my freelancer friends are worried sick. 

The National Union of Journalists is lobbying for support for freelance workers. It has some policy recommendations here, e.g. that the 80% rule be extended to the self-employed, based on recent tax returns along with a temporary cancellation of the savings rule for UC. This would help freelance members at the bottom of the earnings scale. It seems to strengthen the case for a Universal Basic Income going forward! 

I can’t control the big stuff – my heart goes out to Italy – almost 800 deaths yesterday, and it’s heartbreaking to see a country brought to its knees. So, I’m focusing on the things I can control – my environment, self-care, online chats and campaigning, and using this unexpected pause to read, study online, and do some business planning.  

Here’s what I’ve been doing to keep my business on track during COVID-19. 

MONEY – I’ve given myself a pay cut. I have a limited company and pay myself a monthly salary, so I’ve reduced this for now. I can cut back to the essentials as I won’t be travelling to London, doing coffees with clients, using hot desk space etc. I’m reviewing all my subscriptions and memberships and cancelling those I can do without. I’ve been using Xero for my accounting, which is expensive – £36 a month as I had EUR payments coming in, so I’m switching to Free Agent, which offers a 30-day free trial and seems more contractor-friendly. I’ve found a cheaper online accountant who specialises in creative businesses. I’ll do my tax return at the end of this month to get it out of the way, so I know what tax I have to pay next year. 

Some guidance from HMRC for small businesses and the self-employed and from The Guardian.

TIME TO HUSTLE – I rent my home, so will speak to my agency to see what help is available and haggling with utility providers and suppliers to see what they can do. I’ve applied for a grant from the Society of Authors contingency fund for authors and journalists and joined the Creative Industries Federation (they are offering free six-month membership for all freelancers and microbusinesses). There are small grants available from various charities, so see what’s available in your field. Facebook is offering cash grants and ad credits for small businesses.

TRAINING – I’ve signed up for some online courses and webinars to learn new skills. AllBright, a club and community that celebrates and connects women at work, is running 20 digital courses at 2 pm every day, so an excellent opportunity to dip my toe in and see what they offer. FEU Training has a digital learning centre for creative freelancers (free to NUJ/union members). Also, check out Skillshare.

ONLINE WORK – it’s a good time to update the CV. I use Indeed, We Work Remotely, Hoxby Collective, Yuno Juno, The Dots, Freelance Alliance, and LinkedIn to find remote work. Search hashtags: #remotejobs #remotework #workingfromhome #JournoJobs. I also subscribe to newsletters that list writing jobs, e.g. The Professional Freelancer, Journo Resources, Freelance Writing Jobs

OPPORTUNITY/MINDSET – things are going to be very different over the next few months, so I will use this opportunity to think, review my business and what I want to do next. As Debbie Wosskow, co-founder of AllBright, said, “It’s an unexpected pause. I’ve never spent any time in my own home, and now I’m here!” Make the most of it and enjoy family time. Small businesses might need more online content and social media to stay connected while they’re shut, so I’ll pitch my services around locally.

DIGITALISE YOUR BUSINESS – What income streams can you digitalise? I’ve seen yoga teachers, fitness instructors and nutritionists doing online classes via Zoom. I wrote a book a few years ago which got pulled, so a good time to publish it as an e-Book. What digital products can you create now for future passive income? I use Free Conference Call for team calls, Skype, WeChat groups, Trello for planning, Twitter and LinkedIn to share work.

SELF-CARE – It’s tempting to scroll the newsfeed all day, but it makes me feel anxious and unable to concentrate, so time to stop. It’s also easy to spend all day on your laptop when you work from home and not take proper breaks. It’s spring and the weather’s changing so I’ll go for walks and jogs to clear my head. Check out online fitness classes, and the Headspace app for meditation. 

COMMUNITY – This is a war on a virus, and there’s been nothing like it in my lifetime, so we are having to rethink how we live, work and interact. We’re in this together and need to help each other. I’ve joined Nextdoor to find out what’s going on in my neighbourhood, and AllBright Connect – they asked for volunteers to do skills swaps so a good opportunity to make new contacts. Follow hashtags on Twitter like #SupportFreelancers and local Coronavirus groups on Facebook to find out what’s going on in your area.

CAMPAIGNING – I’ve signed and shared several petitions to support freelancers and the self-employed: 

Don’t Leave Freelancers Behind in the Coronavirus Crisis

Self-employed in Statutory Sick Pay

Self-employed 80% of Their Median Salary During the Coronavirus Pandemic

I’ve written to my MP calling for the benefit to be extended immediately to the self-employed. Here’s a template letter from the NUJ which you can adapt. I’m also following various MPs on Twitter like Tracy Brabin, John McDonnell, and Keir Starmer who are campaigning to help the self-employed. 

Keep calm, carry on. We can survive, we will thrive! Let’s see what happens next week. I hope more measures are introduced to help the self-employed. Celebrate your achievements and have a virtual glass of vino with your colleagues to help each other through this crisis. If you’re home-schooling – there are some great ideas here. This is an opportunity to do things differently, and it will lead to a more creative and connected way of living.

Stay safe, keep well, and look after those around you! 

What are you doing to keep your business on track? Send me your tips and follow me on Twitter @niccitalbot, I’d love to hear from you. 

Clear messaging (& tone of voice) is crucial at all times – not just during coronavirus!

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Corona Diaries: Getting Tested in the UK

Europe is now the centre of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re facing the most significant public health crisis for a generation. So far, there have been 35 deaths in the UK with an estimated 10,000 or more people infected. Since coming to stay a few weeks ago, my mum has been ill. A few days ago, she was up all night with a temperature, hot skin, shoulder pain, a dry cough. “It’s not your average cold,” she said. “It feels slightly alien to anything I am used to. I’ve had a persistent headache for weeks, and my tinnitus is going through the roof”. Concerned that she might have coronavirus, she called the NHS 111 helpline.

Because of her age, pre-existing health conditions (she has CLL and a heart murmur), she was told to go to A&E immediately, so my brother cancelled a couple of jobs to drive her over. When they got there at 7 am, “it was eerie, totally deserted. Just rows of empty chairs.” Not what you’d expect to see in an ordinarily busy A&E. A nurse checked her over and told her she has an ‘upper respiratory tract infection’. 

“I said “look, could this be coronavirus? She said, ‘well, it could be – I can’t say it’s not, but it’s probably just a severe cold.’

“I said, ‘well, don’t you do any tests?’ she said ‘no’. She said ‘we just tell you to self-isolate now.’ Worryingly, the nurse hadn’t heard of her health condition either. My mother had to spell it out and explain what it is (a type of cancer that affects the white blood cells). She didn’t have a temperature as she’d been taking paracetamol, so didn’t meet the ‘criteria for testing’, which is ridiculous given she was sent to A&E in the first place. She told to self-isolate for seven days and to call 111 again if her symptoms didn’t improve and tell them she might have the virus.

So, my mum’s left in limbo. “I’m waiting: is it going to get better, is it going to get worse?”. My mum is in the vulnerable group and has a right to be tested for coronavirus – as do we all. The government promised an additional 10,000 tests a couple of days ago, so, it’s frustrating to see the U-turn from testing everyone to ‘high-risk groups’ only, i.e. in hospital with breathing problems. After we’d spoken, I called the A&E department to find out what’s going on but was told they couldn’t answer questions about coronavirus testing and that I had to call 111 for further information. I did and was kept on hold for half an hour and eventually gave up. If this is my experience of calling 111, it will be many other people’s too.

I called the local press to tell them about my mum’s experience. The Nottingham Post interviewed us. I spoke to BBC Radio Nottingham this morning about the importance of mass testing. People are being advised NOT to go to their local GP or pharmacy if they have any symptoms of the virus, and to call 111 instead. But what are you supposed to do if you can’t get through? Or in my mum’s case if you’re sent to hospital, not tested and told to self-isolate for a week? If the government is going to announce virus isolation for the over-70s for up to four months, there needs to be a proper plan of action and more funding for social care. Who will visit them and bring supplies if they live alone? My mother doesn’t do online shopping and banking. “No way would I be imprisoned in my own home for four bloody months staring at the walls waiting for Deliveroo to drop off a food parcel outside. People who live alone will commit suicide without the physical or mental benefit of going for daily walks or to shops and the library.”

The UK’s strategy is to delay the peak of the virus or “squash this sombrero” as Boris so eloquently puts it so that we don’t overwhelm the NHS (years of Tory cuts and austerity have run it down to the ground, so you reap what you sow). The idea of letting 60% of the population contract the virus to develop “herd immunity” to protect the most vulnerable is reckless. This means potentially 36 million people will need to be infected with the virus, with around 2 million seriously ill and 330 people requiring a critical care bed. It would cripple the NHS and could lead to thousands of deaths. Also worrying to hear from a contact working in the NHS that they have been buying lots of body bags… are we anticipating a large number of deaths?!

200 scientists have written an open letter to the government asking for stricter measures. They say the current proposals are “insufficient” and “additional and more restrictive measures,” i.e. social distancing should be taken immediately as has happened in other countries. We seem to be the only country in Europe following a “laissez-faire” attitude towards coronavirus, with our “keep calm and carry on” approach. South Korea’s approach is “being open, transparent, and keeping people informed,” says their foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha. They are testing 20,000 people a day and monitoring them afterwards via an app. Their goal is to detect it early to prevent spreading, and so far, it seems to be working. Their view is that mass testing is vital so they know how many people have been infected to tailor medical care and monitor them in the future.

Good to see that Democrat Katie Porter has succeeded in getting the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention chief to agree to free coronavirus testing for all Americans. UK government take note!

Labour MP Lisa Nandy is calling for a Public Health England (PHE) information campaign, “not just a gif telling us to ‘wash our hands'”. The government is due to publish its scientific modelling this Thursday, and as of today, there will be daily press briefings.

It has now become a political issue says Robert Colville in The Sunday Times: Delayers v Containers: the new political divide. It’s worrying to hear medical experts arguing about the best approach to tackle the pandemic. I agree with former PM Gordon Brown who says we need to work together to tackle this rather than being nationalistic. Get heads together to come up with a vaccine, pronto!

My mother would be happy to pay for a private test. “I have a right to know whether I’ve had it for my medical history and peace of mind. It affects how I live my life going forward. If I’ve had it, then I have some immunity, so I’ll feel less anxious about going out. If I haven’t, then I know I need to be careful and take precautions.” I agree. My daughter and I have been ill recently, and I have rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic health condition which means my immune system is compromised so I also need to know. I saw my consultant last week who advised me to stay home. So, what are the options if you can’t get tested on the NHS?

This Harley Street clinic is offering private coronavirus testing for £375 after being inundated by people wanting to be tested. Channel 4 News reported that a rapid self-testing kit is set for UK release this week (they’ve already sent 50,000 to South Korea). But if you’re not supposed to go the pharmacy if you have any symptoms, how do you get it? Can you order it online and how much does it cost?

I went for a walk to Bexhill yesterday, which was surreal. You can feel the fear and anxiety. People are apprehensive about what’s going to happen over the coming weeks as the virus peaks here. People are giving each other a wide berth and there’s not much eye contact. My daughter saw a whole family wearing masks at the station. Most of the conversations are about coronavirus.

“The only way we can stop it is to not visit her.”

“Did you see the shops in Eastbourne? Totally empty. It’s like a ghost town.”

The M&S Café in Bexhill was deserted (it’s normally packed with older folk having tea). All the makeup and perfume tester kits have been removed from the shelves which makes sense, but it looks so strange and impersonal. There was no loo roll or pasta in my local ASDA as people panic-buy. Don’t do it! There’s enough for everyone – think about the people who can’t afford to panic buy.  

This is a war on a virus, and it brings out the best and worst in people. It’s upsetting to hear about racism against the Chinese and Italians. Fewer visits to Chinese takeaways. Last week a boy in my daughter’s class said: “Are we making pizza because it’s Italian and they have coronavirus?” The teacher put him straight.

But also great to see people pulling together. I love little drawings by Italian kids under quarantine, hashtag #TuttoAndraBene, #EverythingsGonnaBeOkay? And these videos of Italians singing to their neighbours – this Turin opera singer gave hers a treat. In the UK, we have postcard campaigns to encourage people to check in on their elderly neighbours, #ViralKindness #HowCanIHelp. It shouldn’t take a national crisis for this to happen but here we are.

#AndraTuttoBene #EverythingWillBeOkay

We may be spending a lot of time at home over the coming months, so it’s an opportunity to slow down, think about how we live, and make some changes. Do we need to travel so much and buy more stuff? We can shop local, work from home if possible, and do more in our communities. I’m keeping a corona diary. I really hope this is the beginning of a new way of living with more tolerance and time for each other and more cohesive leadership. We need better international cooperation with governments around the world working together to solve problems and create change.

I’ll let you know if we manage to get hold of a self-testing kit and what the outcome is. I’d be interested to hear your experiences too – email me on nicci@niccitalbot.com.

  • Staying Home Club – the running list of what in tech has been affected by COVID-19 and what social distancing policies have been enacted by 238 companies
  • Last month, China rolled out an app for people to test if they’ve been in ‘close contact’ with people exposed to the coronavirus. It shares data with the police. (this is in the pipeline for the UK although if its success depends on widespread testing I can’t see how can it work here) 

Send her your feedback so she can put together a dossier for the government on self-employment and coronavirus: Tracy.brabin.mp@parliament.uk

  • Labour MP Lisa Nandy on how to campaign during a pandemic. She says we should be using video conferencing to carry on the Brexit negotiations. Her team have launched an app for her leadership campaign, which has been adapted for the coronavirus with virtual Q&As. “The Nandwagon will continue to roll on. We have three weeks,” she told Andrew Marr 
  • Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now. A fascinating article by Tomas Pueyo, which has been widely shared online. I’m not sure about his scientific credentials – he’s a Silicon Valley tech executive, but it’s interesting data, and he’s a passionate speaker. Watch the debate on the Channel 4 News coronavirus special
  • Who Gives a Crap? Eco-friendly toilet roll delivered to your door… they’ve been completely wiped out – back in stock soon

Enjoy reading this?

Clear messaging (& tone of voice) is crucial at all times – not just during coronavirus!

If you need a little help with your marketing activity in the coming weeks – get in touch today. Nicci@niccitalbot.com.

Categories
Advice. Opinions. Conversation.

Coronavirus and freelancers: “If I become ill, I’ll have to work.”

Working as a freelancer or contractor in the UK? You may find this interesting. 

Petition: Include Self-employed in Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) during Coronavirus. It’s had over 65,000 signatures so far. If it hits 100,000, it will be considered for debate in parliament. I’ve signed it and shared.

Self-isolating employees can access sick pay from the first day of being off if they earn enough, but it’s not clear if this will be extended to those on low incomes, zero-hours contracts and the self-employed if a pandemic hit the UK. 

Freelancers make up 15% of the UK workforce, and the majority of us aren’t entitled to any sick pay. So, we rely on our savings. We need to pay bills and put food on the table like everyone else so most of us will carry on going to work, sick or not, which raises the risk of spreading the virus further. 

As the petition points out, “4.8 million people are registered self-employed in the UK (2017 figures from the Office of National Statistics so this figure is probably higher). “It would be easy enough to work out what each person is entitled to based on their tax returns.” 

Good to see trade union action spurring this on. On March 4, Francis O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), called on the government to make SSP available to all workers. “Unless we sort out our sick pay rules and make them fair, many workers are going to face that invidious choice of do they pay their bills, put food on the table, or do they follow government health advice to self-isolate if they’ve got symptoms? No one should be out of pocket for doing the right thing.” The National Union of Journalists (NUJ London Freelance Branch) has also written about it here

And Lisa Nandy (my favourite Labour candidate) in The Guardian today calling for an extension to the Brexit transition period because of the coronavirus. “Businesses trading with the EU do not know what terms they will be trading on in 10 months. Add to this the falling demand and disruption created by the coronavirus, and it is reasonable to expect many businesses will not survive.” Which means more stress for the freelancers who work for them.

She has also suggested extending SSP to avoid a ‘public health disaster’ waiting to happen if self-employed people and those working in the gig economy can’t afford to self-isolate. 

Please sign it and share! 

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🍌 on Unsplash

Enjoy reading this?

Clear messaging (& tone of voice) is crucial at all times – not just during coronavirus!

If you need a little help with your marketing activity in the coming weeks – get in touch today. Nicci@niccitalbot.com.