As a dark cloud descends on Britain, YOU have been its silver lining

As a dark cloud descends on Britain, YOU have been its silver lining: Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett, who founded NHS volunteers group Helpforce, says Britons will pull together to come through the coronavirus crisis 

  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

In these dark days, great comfort can be taken from the remarkable outpouring of goodwill and community spirit across the United Kingdom as people seek to help.

 Whether it be letters posted to elderly neighbours with contact details if they need anything or community volunteer groups set up on social media, there can be no doubt a great sense of spirit exists.

This has been wonderfully harnessed by the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who launched a campaign for a volunteer ‘army’ of 250,000 people on Tuesday afternoon. 

Just 24 hours later, a staggering 504,000 people had come forward looking to ease the pressure on overburdened health professionals fighting Covid-19, while bringing happiness to the lives of fellow human beings at their most vulnerable.

 Those looking to do the same in Scotland, however, may have been disappointed. As health is devolved, Mr Hancock’s good-spirited campaign does not apply here – and sadly the Scottish Government has so far failed to take a similar approach. 

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock leaves 10 Downing Street on Wednesday in London, England

As Volunteer Scotland points out, there is no shortage of people who are desperate to help – driving people to hospital, picking up medicines or delivering supplies – but much great co-ordination is needed. 

The Government, alongside local councils, can ensure that those who step forward are doing the tasks that will help the most and, crucially, are able to keep themselves safe. 

More strategy is needed from ministers to ensure the work of these volunteers will respond to need at different stages of this national health crisis, such as when we are in the eye of the storm, then during the clear-up exercise that will follow.

As Nicola Sturgeon rightly said yesterday, it will be some time before life returns to normal, so we all need to look out for ourselves and each other. 

Volunteering has to be a way of doing this. The First Minister has agreed to consider whether more national coordination is required. 

For the sake of vulnerable people around the country and our hard-pressed NHS, it is crucial she delivers. 

Protect NHS heroes 

Hospital staff and ambulance staff prepare to take a patient into the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, on Monday when Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the Government is ready to impose tougher restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus if people do not follow the guidance on social distancing

The virus’s spread has exposed how woefully underprepared Britain was to tackle a pandemic. A lack of intensive care beds. Too few ventilators. Medics scrabbling to buy protective clothing from DIY stores. And, perhaps most seriously, a dearth of testing kits. 

Because medical staff aren’t checked for Covid-19, those with symptoms must stay at home – even if not infectious. Yet those same doctors and nurses are desperately needed on the frontline as the NHS edges close to collapse. 

Meanwhile, it’s welcome that ministers have bought 3.5million tests to show if medics are immune, and can return to work safely. If the kits arrive within days, rather than weeks, it would be a huge leap forward in controlling the disease. 

So far, though, the Government has been lamentably behind the curve. It must raise its game… fast.

Banks must change

In the decade since rapacious banks sparked the global financial crash have they learned nothing about social responsibility? Incredibly, it seems not. 

Last week, the Government pledged to pull out all the stops to ensure the economy survived coronavirus. Businesses, suddenly struggling, were promised year-long loans at ‘attractive’ rates – helping them and their staff traverse the turmoil. 

Yet we learn one iniquitous lender is threatening to charge a usurious 12 per cent when the grace period expires (the base rate is a measly 0.1 per cent). 

That wouldn’t save firms and jobs. It would dash them against the commercial rocks Not long ago, the taxpayer rescued the Square Mile. The City must now help save us – not brazenly profiteer. 

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As lockdown descends, at least some TV shows are still being released

From our home bunkers, TV dramas can provide some respite from our current news cycle as our critics give you the best of the week's viewing.


God Friended Me
Seven, 11pm

Ruby Modine as Anna and Brandon Micheal Hall as Miles Finer in God Friended Me, screening on Seven.Credit:Micheal Greenberg/CBS

A warm-hearted drama series about faith, hope, optimism and the value of human connection seems strangely out-of-kilter with the times, a period when dark and twisted crime stories are all the rage. But this one is so cleverly constructed that its difference is an asset, rather than rendering it a misjudged oddity. Podcaster Miles (Brandon Micheal Hall), the son of a bishop (Joe Morton), is no longer a believer when he gets a friend request on Facebook, apparently from God, who proceeds to send him on missions that involve saving strangers. The ongoing storyline sees Miles and his friends, Cara (Violett Beane) and Rakesh (Suraj Sharma), trying to figure out who’s behind what they call The God Account, while episodic plots relate to the messages that Miles receives and the people he’s sent to rescue. In this episode, as his sister, Ali (Javicia Leslie), goes into hospital for her first round of cancer treatment, Miles bumps into Anna (Ruby Modine), a young woman whom he learns has cancer and is refusing further treatment, choosing instead to spend her remaining time working through her bucket list. Miles assumes that his mission is to change her mind about receiving treatment. With its premise of DMs from God, the episode, like the series, has ample space to get soppy or silly. But instead, and possibly as a result of the sure hand of producer Greg Berlanti (Everwood, Riverdale, Brothers & Sisters), it’s light and bright: engaging, smartly paced and vibrant. And the use of New York City as its setting adds a discernible vitality. –DE


Nine, 9pm

Nine’s Paramedics TV show, featuring ambulance officers, from left, Nicola and Risky.

Shot in Melbourne, this documentary series focuses on, and celebrates, the work of a group of calm and capable ambulance officers whose working days present all manner of challenges. They routinely confront life-and-death situations, and they do it with the kind of smooth competence that make you wish that they’d be the ones who’d arrive if you ever had to call emergency. In this episode, the cases include a 24-year-old man in suspected cardiac arrest, a mother of five whose heart is beating dangerously fast, car-accident victims and a woman with lockjaw who is spitting out lots of saliva. The narration, delivered by actor Samuel Johnson, can be unnecessarily florid (‘‘She prepares herself for the horrifying experience of having her heart stopped dead in its tracks’’). The activities recorded for the series are well-selected and edited, and there’s usually sufficient drama not to require pumping up from the narration. It’s a miscalculation that comparable English productions, such as Ambulance UK, don’t make. –DE

The Blacklist (season premiere)
7Two, 9.30pm

The Blacklist’s season 7 opening episode Louis T. Steinhil.Credit:

Since the start of this thriller, which is now entering its seventh season, Raymond ‘‘Red’’ Reddington (James Spader) has always been the smartest, and certainly the smuggest, man in any room. And Spader remains the best reason to stay tuned to what is otherwise a fairly pedestrian espionage drama. He plays a one-time secret agent with a strategically obscured past who has waged his own vigilante campaign to bring baddies to justice. He’s also enlisted the aid of FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), whom many viewers have suspected from the get-go might be his daughter. The series is loaded with twists and turns, some ludicrous, some less so. All are designed to keep the momentum rolling and viewers’ disbelief suspended as Red does his thing, with a posse of FBI agents tagging along after him, usually saying things to each other like, ‘‘We have a situation.’’ In this double-episode season opener, that situation involves Red’s pursuit of Louis T. Steinh, number 27 on his hit list, but also the ruthless icy blonde Katarina Rostova (Laila Robins), who might also have some connection to Elizabeth and is prepared to go to great lengths to get what she wants from Red. –DE

Fake or Fortune (season premiere)
ABC, 10pm

Fake or Fortune? Presented by Philip Mould and Fiona Bruce, of Antiques Roadshow fame.

‘‘This is one of our trickiest investigations so far,’’ observes Fiona Bruce to her co-host, the scarf-loving Philip Mould, at the start of their eighth season of art detection. The pair is trying to determine the authenticity of a landscape painting featuring a group of people, a gnarled tree and an unhappy-looking donkey that might, or might not, have been painted by Thomas Gainsborough. Possibly it’s the work of a Gainsborough imitator, known as Barker of Bath or an effort by one of Barker’s followers. This BBC series makes clever use of graphics and visits museums, art galleries and libraries as the hosts chase down telling details of a painting’s qualities and history. And, as with this episode, it generally builds to an illuminating revelation of provenance. –DE


Ten, 8.30pm

Michael Weatherly in Bull.Credit:  Supplied

Like Red Reddington in The Blacklist, Dr Jason Bull (Michael Weatherly) can be relied upon to be the smartest guy in any room, although the lawyer’s special skill set runs to jury selection and trials. And, thankfully, over four seasons, the producers of this show have toned down his early, insufferable arrogance to a level closer to justifiable confidence, with even an occasional hint of doubt. This episode, titled Quid Pro Quo, sees Bull and his legal partner and de facto brother-in-law, Benny (Freddy Rodriguez), called upon to defend a gifted, humble and apparently honourable heart surgeon (Babak Tafti) who’s caught up in a college admissions scandal. At the same time, Bull’s pregnant ex-wife and current partner, Izzy (Yara Martinez), is due to deliver their baby. As he waits for the call to tell him to get to the hospital, Bull and his team focus on the puzzling behaviour of the possibly pivotal juror number eight. –DE


Gogglebox Australia
Ten, 8.30pm

Gogglebox newcomers Kaday and Chantel.

This has to be a most unlikely success story. The concept: watching people – families, friends, partners – sitting around in their lounge-rooms watching TV and commenting on it. But as it rolls through its 11th season – yes, 11th – it’s undeniable that it is a success story, one reliant on the casting of its contributors, which has been astute. So clever that one former Goggleboxer, Angie Kent, went on to become a reality TV star in her own right – The Bachelorette, no less – while another pair – original and longtime contributors Wayne and Tom – published a book of their cocktail recipes. Mango Daiquiri anyone? This season’s new Goggleboxers are flatmates Milo and Nic, twentysomething pals Kaday and Chantel, and Sydney’s Elias clan. They’ve joined Leigh and Keith, Mick and Di, Anastasia and Faye, Sarah Marie, Matty and Jad, as well as the Dalton, Delpechitra, Silbery and Jackson families. From the comfort of their respective homes, this varied clutch of couch and armchair critics has offered responses to Rebel Wilson’s Pooch Perfect, Hughesy, We Have a Problem, First Dates, Extreme Cake Makers and Kings of Pain, among others. Wonder what they’ll make of the new-look MasterChef (starting April 13)? –DE


Back to Life (relaunched)
SBS Two, 10.15pm

Back To Life, starring Daisy Haggard as Miri Matteson.

It’s become a bit of a lazy reflex to describe a comedy by and featuring a woman as sort-of-like-Fleabag. But while a new genre has certainly emerged, each of these shows deserves to be appreciated and admired on its own merits. Here, Daisy Haggard (currently starring with Martin Freeman in Breeders) plays Miri Matteson, recently released after spending 18 years in prison. Watching Miri readjust to the modern world brings the funny. Watching her trying to re-establish normal human relationships is kind of heartbreaking. And the journey to discovering why she was in prison in the first place is compelling. This series did screen on the main channel last year, but if you missed it then, do check it out now. And if you watched it last year, it absolutely rewards a second viewing. –ML


Agatha Raisin
ABC, 8.20pm

Ashley Jensen as Agatha Raisin.

This show is constantly walking a tightrope. Like all the bucolic, bloodless murder mysteries, Agatha Raisin tiptoes around some pretty unsavoury stuff (tonight, a human torso almost being roasted on a spit). Its sexual innuendo regularly veers to the very edge of the Good Taste precipice. And perhaps only Ashley Jensen could make a character as amoral and abrasive as Agatha Raisin someone we want to spend time with. But its charm is that it does stay upright on that tightrope, and the calming comfort of a picturesque English village never wanes. –ML


ABC, 8.30pm

Asher Keddie stars as a Department of Immigration officer in Stateless.

If you ever questioned why the luvvies and the bleeding hearts are always banging on about the need to ‘‘tell our own stories’’ – this is why. Sure, it’s important to hear Australian accents and see Australian scenery on the small screen. Television is a cornerstone of Australian culture. But what Stateless does is most important of all: to take an issue that’s either too difficult to talk about in a strictly factual way, or too complex, or perhaps a headline to which we have become numb – and create a story that’s truthful in all its essentials and also manages to engage us, and make us feel.

This is exceptional filmmaking, from the writing and direction to the casting and the way the cinematographers have captured the distinctive quality of the light in the South Australian desert. It is absolutely compelling, a ripping yarn. There’s nothing worthy or homework-y about it. But it also captures important truths about Australia’s policy towards refugees in a way that eschews lazy proselytising, heroes and villains, or any pretence that there are easy answers here. This penultimate episode brings all that complexity to a roiling boil, before next Sunday’s gut-punch of a finale. –ML

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