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Private properties marketed as ‘isolation units’ in Covid-19 crisis

By Tom Dare | Birmingham | Coronavirus | Published: | Last Updated:

Private properties across Birmingham are being marketed as ‘isolation units’ which can be rented for weeks at a time as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the country, it has been revealed.

The advertisement Mr Mae first posted on various local Facebook groups - image courtesy of Owen O'Neil

The apartments and houses, with up to six bedrooms, are being promoted as accommodation for self-isolation – and are being offered for free to NHS workers, though bills and cleaning are not included.

The units have been criticised as exploiting people’s fears and that the company behind the marketing campaign should be ‘ashamed’.

But the entrepreneur behind the scheme defended the campaign and said it is for those people who "simply want to be isolated from others … who want their own apartment to themselves". This week he launched the website isolation-units.co.uk.

The website, which has used the official NHS and HM Government logos in its marketing, offers ‘self-isolation units for anyone in this COVID-19/Coronavirus epidemic, contractors and NHS employees’.

“We have been allocating some of our luxury properties specifically to support those affected by the coronavirus or COVID-19 and even to support and house NHS employees,” the website continues.

“Self-isolation units and places for elderly/vulnerable relatives to live for a month to ensure they can ride this out safely and be in an amazing accommodation/apartment.

“In these difficult times, we are here to help!”

The company made no mention of providing free accommodation to NHS staff in its initial marketing over the weekend, though owner of the company Shamil Mae says that they will now be offering apartments to staff free of charge.

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Local landlord Owen O’Neill, who first noticed the scheme, says that the company should be "ashamed" of the way in which it has acted.

“At this time when everyone is so worried about their health and how the NHS staff and systems will cope, I think it’s awful that [it] is trying to use the trusted identity of the NHS to drum up business – they should be ashamed of exploiting people’s fear,” he said.

In hospitals and other medical facilities, an isolation ward is a separate ward used to isolate patients suffering from infectious diseases. Several wards for individual patients are usually placed together in an isolation unit.

Mr Mae has confirmed that his company has no official partnership with the NHS. He has also had to remove any reference to a partnership with AirBnB from his website, with the company claiming they have no relationship with his company.

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Speaking about his new website, Mr Mae said: “Coming from a marketing perspective, as my previous career was a Digital Marketer. I always create ideas from a brand, the brand name is something what I always think about and want people to be able to remember easily.

“I chose to use the name as ‘Isolation Units’ because many people were self isolating. So therefore I wanted to included the keyword ‘Isolation’ within the name itself.

“Without drifting off track, the name was simply to refer to apartments, houses and accommodations that I can offer without using the word apartments as most of them are houses/blocks. So ‘unit’ was the one I ended up choosing.

“Again this wasn’t a long term plan, I thought of this within a few minutes, created the site in 3 hours and put it live. It was literally just to get things moving forward and launched quick as everyone on my social media and within the property network had already started posting their ‘Isolation Unit’ posts.

“Being a quick and snappy entrepreneur I quickly went to work and built it. It was simply the intention behind it that had meaning, which is to house NHS staff who are working hard in this epidemic and for those people who simply want to be isolated from others who aren’t affected but just want their own apartment to themselves.

“Isolation Units is not a company, it’s just a website domain and a online brand.

“Using the word ‘FREE’ tends to attract the wrong crowd, especially being in the hospitality industry and the short let industry. We tend to get loads of party people, or people who book our apartments simply for a ‘party with the boys’.

“To avoid these sorts of bookers, we chose not to display pricing, or the word free.

“As we only wanted to attract the most serious people/NHS staff who are only interested in self isolating or isolating themselves away from their families when working on shifts.

“This is the reason why, maybe I should of made it clear but again like mentioned above, this is not something that took months and months of planning, this was drafted up and put live within 3 hours within the goal of supporting the NHS not making sure the literature was correct.

“I used the logo within the post because we are housing NHS staff. Quite simply, there are hundreds of people on social media doing the exact same.

“I’m sure charities who do fundraising for the NHS do the same, so why can’t I do the same? Because a few people have complained? We all pay our taxes and support the NHS…. Not to mention we don’t make profit on these properties, we are barely breaking even/covering running costs.

“We aren’t promoting hate, we’re promoting something of benefit, everyone else is praising and supporting what we do, quite sad to see the odd few who don’t.

“We don’t house anyone suffering with ‘coronavirus’, that’s a high risk and something the emergency services should deal with not us.

“I think the message may have been misunderstood within our original wording or literature. But we are only housing people who wish to isolate themselves or NHS staff/teachers, hence the name ‘Isolation’.”

Tom Dare

By Tom Dare
@tomdare7

Local Democracy Reporter covering the West Midlands Combined Authority.

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