A social worker at a London borough has died after being infected with coronavirus, the local authority’s leader said today.
Southwark council’s Peter John, a Labour councillor, wrote on Twitter that two employees had lost their lives having contracted the disease, which has now been associated with 1,789 deaths in the UK.
“So sad to learn that we have now lost two @lb_southwark employees to Covid-19 – one of our dedicated street cleaning team and a social worker,” John said. “My thoughts are with them and their loved ones at this awful time.”
In a statement expanding on his social media comments, John said: “Sadly the large number of tragic deaths that are expected nationally from Covid-19 means that all of us will know someone who has been touched by tragedy and loss by the time this is over.
“In Southwark we were devastated this week to learn that two colleagues have lost their lives to Covid-19,” John added. “We are in touch with their families and are supporting staff at this difficult time.”
John urged members of the public to stay at home and away from other people in order to combat the spread of the virus.
Southwark council did not release any further information about the employees who died or whether they were likely to have contracted Covid-19 due to their job roles.
Many social workers have expressed fears about their ability to do their jobs safely in a context of a national shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), which are so severe as to be affecting healthcare professionals on the frontline of treating patients with Covid-19.
Last week Ruth Allen, the chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said a lack of national protocols for safe working had left the social work sector “playing catch-up” in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
A statement issued by BASW in response to the news of the deaths in Southwark said: “We would like to send our heartfelt condolences to the families of the two people who have lost their lives in these awful circumstances.”
It added: “We will also continue our efforts to lobby for all social workers on the frontline delivering support to communities across the country to get the vital personal protective equipment they need, so they can better protected and in-turn, protect the vulnerable people they serve.”
There are widespread concerns that the lack of PPE could have a huge impact on the wider social care sector as the UK epidemic reaches its peak over the next few weeks, with many councils issuing call-outs for people to join the workforce in order to keep crucial services running should large numbers of staff be sick or self-isolating.
Local authorities have also warned that other frontline workers, including street cleaning teams, are being exposed to unacceptable risks while doing their jobs.