Bristol mayor warns of fraudsters using coronavirus to prey on the vulnerable

Marvin Rees has warned vulnerable residents to beware of fraudsters using the coronavirus outbreak to prey on them.

The mayor says there has been an “explosion in volunteerism” in Bristol in the wake of the health crisis but that this also came with problems, including opportunistic crooks offering to take elderly householders’ bank cards supposedly to do their shopping.

Speaking during a slimmed-down full council meeting of Bristol City Council on Tuesday evening (March 17), attended by the minimum number of members sitting two metres apart to reduce the risk of the virus spreading, he said the city was “as prepared as it could be”.

Mr Rees said the council was holding weekly emergency meetings with organisations including the police, universities and businesses.

“There has been an explosion of volunteerism in Bristol and that is a blessing that we have so many people who want to help their neighbours and invest in the common good,” the mayor said.

“There are a number of challenges that come with that.

“We had a meeting this afternoon with (voluntary services organisation) Voscur and a bunch of other people looking at our community development and how we manage volunteers, including feeding Bristol.

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“We are going to need a degree of organisation to make sure it’s not all focused in one area and other people miss out but also that we don’t end up with competition and conflict and undermining, making sure it doesn’t end up chaotic in the city.

“We need to be wise that as services are stretched and vulnerable people have their doors opened up that opportunistic people do not try to walk through those doorways to access vulnerable people.

“I talked with some this afternoon about people offering to go shopping, saying ‘I’ll take your card for you and I’ll go shopping’.

“In many instances that could be perfectly sincere, perfectly genuine. In other instances it might not be.

“So we’re asking everyone to speak to people in their community to be wise about who they accept support from.”

He said it was crucial that support from volunteers did not burn out too soon as coronavirus steadily reached its peak in the UK.

“This is not a sprint,” Bristol’s mayor said.

“We are concerned there will be an explosion of commitment in the first few weeks that will begin to die out as people get tired.

“This is a long journey. We need to think about how we get people to pace themselves over time.”

Mr Rees said anyone wanting to donate money should do so via the Quartet Community Foundation so it could be drawn on appropriately when and where required, and those offering to volunteer should register with Can Do Bristol.

“If people register their information then the appropriate service can come to that pool of registered volunteers and recruit them at the appropriate time.

“In Bristol our local resilience forum co-chaired by our director of public has been moving for some time.

“We are as prepared as any city can be in the face of shifting sands with our resilience forum in place.

“We are working with our partners. It is a city challenge for us.

You can get updates about the latest coronavirus news for Bristol, North Somerset and South Glos with our Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1150108968667927

“This time last week we had a meeting that we’ve now plugged in for each week involving universities, the business community, police, unions, City of Bristol College, a whole host of organisations that are managing populations and shaping life in the city.

“We structure those meetings with an update from the director of public health with an update on the latest situation but we also give the opportunity for our city partners to speak about the specific challenges facing them, so there is a structure in place to gather that city voice.

“While we are planning how to navigate the crisis itself, we are proactively thinking about the recovery.

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“Businesses are going to be hit hard. These are not just businesses in abstract, these are jobs.

“We’ve been thinking about how we protect our businesses in Bristol in the immediate term, how we protect people through periods of joblessness, what are we going to be advocating for?

“We’ll be doing that not just as Bristol, not just as the West of England but we’re looking at the Western Gateway for doing that and joining up with core cities to send joint communications to government.”

The Western Gateway “powerhouse” is a collaboration of seven local authorities across the West and South Wales, from Swansea to Swindon.

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