accessible housing LGA

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has suggested those over the age of 70 will be asked to stay at home for up to four months in the coming weeks – a move that could devastate mobility retailers.

The policy comes in response to the rising COVID-19 pandemic and would be taken as a measure to protect the most vulnerable in society from contracting the virus.

Discussing what actions are being considered by ministers in Westminster on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Hancock said: “Protection of the vulnerable and elderly by asking them to stay away [and] stay at home… is in our action plan.”

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Confirming that the drastic measure could be coming into effect within “the coming weeks,” Hancock acknowledged that it was “a very big ask” but needed to help protect the public and reduce the strain on the NHS.

The Department of Health and Social Care has announced it will provide more details regarding what the ‘self-isolation’ of over 70s would mean in practice, however, it is believed Hancock’s definition suggests more social distancing and minimising social interaction by staying at home.

Disruption across the mobility sector has already been felt as a result of coronavirus, with the postponement of the industry’s largest mobility and independent living event until November, supply chain issues and emergency tax relief to aid small and medium retailers.

Speaking with Darren Macey, Business Development Manager of Lifestyle and Mobility, he explained how his company is responding to the virus: “It is uncertain times for all businesses at the moment and with the news that over 70s may be asked to self-isolate, it will only become more challenging for mobility retailers.

“As a company, we are massively preparing for the impact of the Coronavirus and on Friday, we placed an order of over £100k to stockpile key products lines to ensure continuity of service and supply for our customers. We are also having to make further contingency plans in case this virus worsens and really affects demand.”

Noting that the retailer has received pushback from suppliers in the sector concerned about stock levels, Darren told THIIS he can envisage supply shortages on the horizon, particularly in the event the UK enters a period of lockdown.

“As a Motability-accredited and responsible retailer, it is essential we can continue to serve our customers and increasing our stockholding is the best course of action to take,” he added.

If the government’s move to restrict the movements of older people goes ahead, however, it could potentially have a severe and lasting impact on mobility retailers as the sector gears up for its traditionally busier spring and summer trading periods.

In the sector, the warmer months usually leads to an increase in demand for lightweight, travel-orientated mobility products as individuals commence more active pursuits and go on holidays, however, the coronavirus disruption and potential self-isolation policy could significantly reduce footfall and sales.

“I think more now than ever, having a strong online presence is key as more customers turn to the internet, which is why we have been investing in our digital reach,” continued Darren.

“Unfortunately, I can really see a lot of businesses in the sector struggling to ride this wave and risk going under as a fall in sales may lead to liquidity problems.

“We are now seeking ways to respond to the crisis by looking at bringing in new ranges and adapting our product portfolio to help us weather the storm. It is essential that rather than getting caught up in the doom and gloom, mobility shops can be flexible and quick to evolve if they are to survive. I think we are taking all the right steps to ensure our business will not suffer too much as a result of this epidemic.”

So far, the number of confirmed UK cases of the virus has reached over 1,300 in the UK, according to the Department of Health & Social Care figures. There have been 35 coronavirus-related deaths, with those who have passed being aged 60+ and with underlying health conditions.

What impact do you envisage over-70s self-isolating for four months having on your business? Contact THIIS Magazine to share your thoughts by emailing editor Calvin Barnett at calvin@thiis.co.uk

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