On Thursday evening at 8 p.m., thousands of people across the United Kingdom emerged from their homes to salute the health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
People took to their balconies and doorsteps to clap, cheer, and bang pots and pans, while vehicles sounded their horns as a gesture of thanks to the staff of the National Health Service.
The Clap For Our Carers campaign, which started online, was staged because “during these unprecedented times they need to know we are grateful,” according to the organizers.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson took part as well, standing at the entrance to 10 Downing Street. “On behalf of the whole country, I want to thank all the incredible nurses, doctors, NHS support staff and carers who are working flat out to fight coronavirus,” he tweeted.
On Friday, Johnson announced that he tested positive for coronavirus, but that his symptoms were mild and he planned to continue to lead the government while in self-isolation.
The emotional gesture of unity and resolve on Thursday came at the end of a week in which the U.K. went into near-total lockdown, with the government telling residents to stay in their homes, with limited exceptions, in order to control the spread of the virus.
NHS workers have also spoken out about a lack of personal protective equipment, and about how panic-buying left supermarket shelves bare by the time they get off their shifts.
The Clap For Our Carers campaign was started by Annemarie Plas, a 36-year-old Dutch woman who lives in south London. She decided to orchestrate the campaign after she heard friends and family members in the Netherlands were doing something similar, and after seeing footage of people coming together for the same purposes in Spain and France.
“It’s really been inspired by what I’ve seen at home,” Plas told HuffPost UK. “I saw what was happening there and I thought: ‘Wow, this is amazing, let’s see if I can pull it off.’”
On Tuesday, the U.K. government issued a call for 250,000 volunteers to assist the NHS; within 24 hours, more than 400,000 people signed up, and has since grown to more than half a million people.
These volunteers will be “will be driving medicines from pharmacies to patients; they will be bringing patients home from hospital; very importantly they will be making regular phone calls to check on and support people who are staying on their own at home,” Johnson said. “They will be absolutely crucial in the fight against this virus.”
Similar calls have gone up around Europe. “Unity and courage will allow us to overcome. We are only at the beginning, but we will hold out,” French President Emmanuel Macron said this week, as he directed the military to support populations affected by the epidemic.
French Economic Minister Bruno Le Maire appealed to the public to embrace “economic patriotism” and buy French products to support local producers. He also encouraged supermarkets to stock their shelves with French fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish.
“Supply yourselves with French products,” Le Maire said.
French Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume appealed to the country’s “shadow army” of workers who have been laid off during the pandemic to help farmers pick fruit and vegetables that will otherwise be left to rot in the fields due to a shortage of seasonal workers.
“Join the great army of French agriculture,” Guillaume said. “Join those who will allow us to eat in a clean, healthy, sustainable way.”
A similar “Pick for Britain” campaign is reportedly set to be launched by the U.K. government within weeks.
Individual communities have been finding ways to support their neighbors as well. In the Italian town of Monteleone di Puglia, the mayor said that members of the civil protection service would deliver goods to residents so that they could remain indoors.
“To protect our small community of about a thousand inhabitants from contagion, we have activated a door-to-door service,” the mayor said. “Our fellow citizens place orders over the phone at supermarkets and pharmacies, and then the men of civil protection arrange for home deliveries. Ours is a community with a strong civic sense.”
In France, locals have left notes for neighbors, offering to pick up groceries or medicine. People may be required to keep their distance, but that doesn’t mean anyone should have to go through this crisis alone, one note read. “It would be a shame if any of us were isolated.”
And in Ripon, North Yorkshire, in the U.K., residents of one street have placed green-colored cards in their windows to signal that they are OK. If they replace the green cards with red ones, however, it’s a signal to their neighbors that they need assistance.
The system ― the idea of retired pharmacist Stuart Newsome ― quickly went viral on social media.
“It was just about this community,” Newsome told Yahoo News. “Not everybody has the technology to stay in touch, and a new bit of tech could be quite worrying for older people.”
“The red and green card idea was just a very simple message about raising awareness. We don’t know everyone’s phone number on the street so this worked instead.”
With reporting from HuffPost UK, HuffPost France, Huffpost Italy, and Reuters.