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Some 170,000 people have registered to be volunteers with the NHS after a recruitment drive to help the vulnerable amid the coronavirus crisis.

The helpers are needed for delivering food and medicines, driving patients to appointments and phoning the isolated.

The scheme is one of a number aimed at relieving pressure on the NHS.

About 11,000 former medics have also agreed to return to the health service and more than 24,000 final year student nurses and medics will join them.

Stephen Powis, NHS England medical director, said there had been “outbreaks of altruism” and he was “bowled over” by the medics returning to the front line and the response from volunteers.

The government scheme to recruit 250,000 helpers – who must be over 18 and in good health – went live on Tuesday.

By Wednesday morning, 170,000 had signed up to Good Sam, the group coordinating the response.

The help is being targeted at the 1.5 million people with underlying health conditions who have been asked to shield themselves from the virus by staying at home for 12 weeks.

On Tuesday, it was also announced that the NHS will treat coronavirus patients in a makeshift field hospital in the ExCeL Centre in east London.

This comes as the government faces growing pressure to stop non-essential construction work to help tackle the spread of coronavirus in the UK.

On Tuesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said those who cannot do their jobs from home should go to work to “keep the country running” and construction work could continue so long as people were 2m (6.5ft) apart.

But critics said public health should be prioritised over the economy.

Andy Burnham, Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, said the decision to allow non-essential work appeared to have been made for “economic reasons”.

“When you’re in the middle of a global pandemic, health reasons alone really should be guiding all decision-making,” he said.

Boris Johnson, who faces Prime Minister’s Questions later, has so far resisted pressure from politicians, unions and workers themselves to halt construction work.

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said building sites should close, unless it involves an essential building such as a hospital.

It comes as several sources tell the BBC that Parliament could shut down later, with no MPs sitting in the House of Commons for almost four weeks.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said motions have been tabled for MPs to vote to agree to rise later, with a “managed return” on 21 April.

On Tuesday, the number of coronavirus deaths in the UK rose to 422, according to the latest Department of Health figures, with more than 8,000 confirmed cases of the virus.

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Media captionA construction worker filmed colleagues failing to distance themselves

Some builders and construction workers have said they feel “angry and unprotected” going to work, while others are under pressure from employers to go in.

The confusion over who should and should not be travelling for work came after government guidance announced by Mr Johnson on Monday curtailed many freedoms on life in the UK.

The prime minister said people should only leave their home to shop for basic goods, to fulfil medical or care needs, to exercise, and to travel to and from work – but only where “absolutely necessary”.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s office has called on the government to act urgently to get more people to stay at home following images of packed Tube trains appearing on social media.

Mr Hancock, however, said the London Underground should be running in full so people were able to space out.

On Tuesday evening, hundreds of British Transport Police were deployed onto the rail network to tell travellers that only those making essential journeys for work should be using tubes and trains.

Meanwhile, the government is considering the early release of some prisoners in England and Wales to relieve pressure caused by the outbreak, in particular 50 pregnant prisoners.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the virus posed an “acute” risk in prisons, many of which were overcrowded and faced staff shortages as officers self-isolated.

Elsewhere, the government remains under pressure to provide financial support for self-employed workers who face a loss of income if forced to stop working due to sickness or quarantine.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has promised help for the self-employed in “the coming days” but said coming up with a plan had proved “incredibly complicated”.

Mr Jenrick told BBC Breakfast: “We are very alive to this issue, the chancellor is reviewing what more we can do to support these individuals through the crisis – and he’s going to make a further statement shortly.”

He urged construction workers not to put themselves in dangerous situations while awaiting the announcement on assistance for the self-employed.

In other key developments:



boiler repairs Hughenden Valley

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