After the announcements by the Scottish and UK Governments, last Monday, it is clear that our lives will be very different in the coming weeks and months, writes MP Dr Philippa Whitford.

Things have moved incredibly quickly, from the early dismissal that such a situation as seen in Italy could arise in the UK, to advising high risk groups to stay at home, the closure of schools, and now the complete shutdown of everything not considered essential in the fight against COVID-19.

Sadly, extreme action became necessary as the sight of busy pubs and crowds hanging out in parks or on beaches last weekend showed that too many people were ignoring the advice, carrying on as usual and putting themselves and others at huge risk.

The number of COVID-19 cases is rising at an accelerating rate as each person with the virus infects several others who, in turn, each infect several more. As it is possible to spread the virus before showing any symptoms, we must keep our distance from everyone and not just those who are clearly unwell. This means everyone must follow the Scottish Government advice and STAY AT HOME!

Despite the difficult times we face, there are positive things we can do in this crisis and it is incredibly heartening to see so many support networks springing up in our local communities.

Many of those who are feeling well, and aren’t in any of the high-risk groups, are arranging to help those who can’t leave the house. Whilst staying at home will involve major change for all of us, it will be extremely hard for those living alone and it is important we all pull together to offer support and avoid them becoming totally isolated.

People will need help to get their shopping and medicines but they will also just need someone to talk to – whether by phone, via Skype or over the hedge! Please swap phone numbers with those who live alone or are frail in your block, on your street or in your community groups. Just calling them for a chat every day or so, to ask how they are, will make a big difference. This kind of interaction will become increasingly important as the outbreak progresses.

From early on, it was clear that the impact on the NHS, the economy and the livelihoods of millions of people was going to be huge.

As such, at the start of March, I asked the UK Government what measures they would take to provide workers, who do not receive sick pay under their contract, with an income to ensure they stay home when they have been advised to self-isolate.

As the weeks have passed, the Chancellor has announced increasing measures to help both businesses and employees, including providing 80 per cent of workers’ salaries to help preserve jobs.

However, there is still a great deal of uncertainty for some groups and equivalent support needs to be put in place for those who are self-employed or freelance if their businesses have to close down.

Although I welcome the decision that self-employed will have access to benefits, the simplest way to provide support for everyone in these circumstances is to have a Universal Basic Income, putting money directly in people’s pockets without the need for laborious assessment. As the crisis deepens and more people start to struggle financially, my colleagues and I will continue to call for this to be implemented.

Whilst access to Statutory Sick Pay is now being made available to more workers, we are also calling for it to be raised to match the EU average to ensure those who are unwell with COVID19, particularly for a prolonged period, can still feed their families and pay their bills.

In terms of my office function, my staff are now working from home to comply with the guidance. We are, however, fully operational but it will take a little time to settle in to our new way of working. Please be patient if you have an enquiry and, where possible, email rather than phoning as the lines have been extremely busy.

If your enquiry relates to COVID-19, please refer to the official websites as things are changing very quickly and they carry the most up-to-date information and advice. A list of relevant national and local helplines and websites can be found on my own website

Follow the advice, take care of each other, stay home and stay well.