VOLUNTEERS and community groups will play a “vital” role in battling the pandemic, a local health boss has said.

Advice, support and up-to-date guidance can go along way in tackling the outbreak of the coronavirus, and volunteers can help.

Covid-19 is the “biggest health crisis to face us for a century”, according to councillor Graeme Hoskin, lead for health at Reading Borough Council.

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Cllr Hoskin said: “It is clear that the role of voluntary and community groups will be vital, but surely even more vital will be the role of families, friends and neighbours looking out for each other.

“A crucial piece of work in the coming weeks will be to give Reading people the advice and support required, so we can all look out for each other over what will be a very difficult time ahead.”

He made the comments at a meeting of the health and wellbeing board on March 13, where he also raised concerns that austerity has left the country in a “precarious” place to fight the virus.

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He said: “In my view, the wanton cuts to public services by national government since 2010 — together with a chronically underfunded NHS, barely able to cope before the outbreak of Covid-19 — leave the UK in a precarious position to deal with this pandemic.”

To help publish guidance and briefings about the coronavirus, the public health team at the council has been working with Reading Voluntary Action.

Volunteer groups can soon apply for a share of money from the council, of up to £100,000, to reach out to people in need of help and to provide extra support to vulnerable people in Reading.

Cllr Hoskin spoke of the role volunteers can play by “raising awareness of prevention measures like handwashing, offering reassurance, and more specific advice for people living with particular long-term conditions”.

Across Berkshire, councils are coordinating responses to the Covid-19 outbreak, and are currently reviewing a key document — the Berkshire Influenza Pandemic Response Plan. The plan is being updated to match new information about how the virus is spreading.

Part of the plan is a strategy to keep communications consistent across Berkshire, and to provide information on access to and availability of local services, Cllr Hoskin said. The plan also includes how to work with volunteers helping out.