Coronavirus cases in Britain may have already hit 10,000, the government said on Thursday night, as officials set out a raft of new measures to help limit the spread.
Speaking at a press conference at Downing Street, Boris Johnson and a team of advisers warned that the outbreak is unlikely to peak before summer, and said more draconian lockdown measures are likely to be needed in coming weeks before the crisis is brought under control.
The Prime Minister warned many more people will die, and urged the public to stay at home if they show any symptoms and to keep pressure off the health service by not visiting hospitals, surgeries or ringing NHS 111 unless their condition deteriorates. Here is a round-up of the new information and advice outlined by the government.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, said the actual number of people infected in the UK at the moment is likely to be between 5,000 and 10,000 and the UK risk level has been raised to high.
Britain is currently around four weeks behind Italy, he said, which has nearly 18,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,200 deaths.
Eleven people have died in Britain and the government said there were more than 20 people still battling the virus in intensive care units. The majority of those people acquired the virus from people who had no known contact with the virus.
The epidemic is now in the delay phase rather than containment and so nobody will now be tested for coronavirus unless they are already in hospital and show symptoms.
Contact tracing will also no longer be taking place and there will no longer be geographical limits on who gets tested as experts said it was no longer relevant.
Sir Patrick said he hoped Britain could change the current trajectory of disease and ‘deflect’ a huge spike in cases as has been seen in Italy.
The virus is expected to peak in 10 to 14 weeks when 95 per cent of the infections are expected to take place. It means that most people will contract the virus between late May and late June.
Anyone who develops even mild symptoms, such as a persistent cough or high temperature should now stay at home for seven days, keep two metres away from others and, if possible, sleep alone.
People with any symptoms should not to go to work, school, or public areas, use public transport or taxis, or even go for a walk.
They should only contact NHS 111 if they get worse after a week. Those who are self-isolating already because they have been to an at-risk country or in contact with someone who has, should also not contact NHS 111 unless their condition deteriorates.
The advice recommends asking friends, family and employers for their assistance with what they require to remain at home for seven days.
Explaining the advice to self-isolate for seven days, the Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty acknowledged it was “something which will interfere with their lives and interfere with their work and their social life in quite significant ways”.
The Prime Minister added: “There is no escaping the reality that these measures will cause severe disruption across our country for many months.”
Families of those who are self-isolating are also expected to be told to stay at home in coming months.
Mr Johnson said: “If someone in a household has those symptoms, we will be asking everyone in the household to stay at home. I want to signal now that this is coming down the track.”
Currently anyone living with a person in quarantine should use a separate bathroom from the rest of the household if possible which should be cleaned after each use.
Advice also states to use separate crockery and a dishwasher if possible, but if not, to wash dishes as normal with hot water but with a separate tea towel.
Personal waste, including used tissues and disposable cleaning cloths, should be stored securely within two disposable rubbish bags and kept separate from the rest of a person’s household waste.
It should be kept aside for at least 72 hours before being put in the external household waste bin, the advice states.
The government is hoping to delay the amount of time people are forced to stay at home until the epidemic is nearing its peak, in case “enthusiasm starts to flag”.
Over 70s have been advised not to go on cruises and schools have also been warned not to take children on overseas trips.
But the government said that widely restricting travel would have a minimal impact on delaying the spread of coronavirus.
Sir Patrick said that even stopping flights from infected areas by 95 per cent would only delay the epidemic by ‘a day or two’.
He said the evidence had borne that out and added that it is now ‘too late’ to be implementing such a measure and added that airport screening measures were unhelpful as they did not stop sick people entering the country.
The government said that in the coming weeks, it will be introducing further social distancing measures for older and vulnerable people, asking them to self-isolate regardless of symptoms.
The government is hoping that if they time isolation measures correctly, the vulnerable and elderly will emerge from their homes after herd immunity has built up and will consequently be more protected.
Public health experts are also concerned that shutting older people off for long periods of time could leave them socially isolated and lonely.
In a message to the elderly, Mr Johnson said that although the disease was ‘particularly dangerous for them, the vast majority would experience ‘a mild-to-moderate illness’.
The Prime Minister said millions of people would need to be mobilised in the coming months to help support each other.
“I know that many people will be very worried,” he added . “We will be providing money and many other forms of support, and helping communities to support each other.”
But he said the most dangerous period is some weeks away and the Department of Health said it would clearly announce when we ask the public to move to this next stage.
Mass events / sporting fixtures
Sporting events, concerts and other “mass gatherings” will be cancelled from next week after Boris Johnson performed an about-turn over the Government’s handling of coronavirus.
The Prime Minister decided to ban major events just 24 hours after insisting he would not be following Scotland’s lead in outlawing crowds of more than 500 people.
It came after the Premier League had taken matters into its own hands by announcing the suspension of the football season until next month and the London Marathon was postponed until October by its organisers.
Sir Patrick, the Chief Scientific Advisor, explained that most virus carriers are likely to infect, on average, two or three others and that this is far more probable in an enclosed environment, such as a home or pub, than at a football stadium.
It means iconic events such as Wimbledon, Glastonbury Festival, Royal Ascot, the Grand National and the Boat Race could all be axed, while new laws will allow the Government to pay out compensation.
On the day Ireland, France and Spain announced they would close all schools in an effort to fight the virus, the government was under pressure from some to follow suit.
But officials are worried that suddenly putting tens of thousands of children in need of parental childcare could seriously damage already fragile staffing levels in key public services.
The clear message that schools should only close if specifically advised follows a spate of unilateral temporary closures in recent weeks.
“We are not, repeat not, closing schools now,” said the Prime Minister.“The scientific advice is that this could do more harm than good at this time.”
He added, however: “We are of course keeping this under review and this again may change as the disease spreads.”
Prof Whitty said closing schools in order to protect children is not justified by the science as, so far, they do not seem to be at risk of death from coronavirus.
“Our view is not that they do get infected, but they seem to have a much milder disease in general,” he said.
“Closing schools has a big knock-on effect and has to be justified.”
For most people who get infected with coronavirus, the illness will be a relatively short affair – a handful of days.
Sir Patrick said the majority will live with a repetitive cough or slight fever, or both, for approximately three days after first experiencing symptoms and then recover.
However, more vulnerable patients will enter a second phase when their immune response overreacts to the infection, potentially threatening the functioning of key organs.
This can manifest itself as shortness of breath.
Mr Johnson acknowledged that even though Covid-19 is “particularly dangerous” for older people, even for the majority of them the symptoms will be mild.
Professor Whitty sought to remind people that even those who do not feel too dreadful can spread the disease:
“People with really quite mild symptoms can spread this virus to a lot of people.”