Coronavirus: PM says everyone should avoid office, pubs and travelling

admin 17th, March 2020
Coronavirus: PM says everyone should avoid office, pubs and travelling

The PM has said everyone in the UK should avoid "non-essential" travel and contact with others to curb coronavirus - as the country's death toll hit 71.

Boris Johnson said people should work from home where possible as part of a range of stringent new measures.

Pregnant women, people over the age of 70 and those with certain health conditions should consider the advice "particularly important", he said.

People in at-risk groups will be asked within days to stay home for 12 weeks.

More than 1,500 people have tested positive for the virus in the UK - but the actual number of cases is estimated to be between 35,000 and 50,000.

The key new government measures are:

  • Everyone should avoid gatherings and crowded places, such as pubs, clubs and theaters
  • Everyone should work from home if they can
  • All "unnecessary" visits to friends and relatives in care homes should cease
  • People should only use the NHS "where we really need to" - and can reduce the burden on workers by getting advice on the NHS website where possible
  • By next weekend, those with the most serious health conditions must be "largely shielded from social contact for around 12 weeks"
  • The UK is now "three weeks" behind Italy - the worst-hit country in Europe
  • If one person in any household has a persistent cough or fever, everyone living there must stay at home for 14 days
  • Those people should, if possible, avoid leaving the house "even to buy food or essentials" - but they may leave the house "for exercise and, in that case, at a safe distance from others"
  • Schools will not be closed for the moment

Chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty said the group of people who should take "particular care to minimize their social contact" were:

  • People over the age of 70
  • Other adults who would normally be advised to have the flu vaccine (such as those with chronic diseases)
  • Pregnant women

Mr Johnson said "drastic action" was needed as the UK approaches "the fast growth part of the upward curve" in the number of cases. He told Londoners to pay special attention to the advice as the virus is spreading more rapidly in the capital than elsewhere.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons the number of people to have died with the virus in England had risen to 71 - and "the disease is now accelerating".

The first death in Wales, and a death in Scotland, brings the total number of deaths in the UK to 55.

Why has the UK plan ramped up?

Analysis box by James Gallagher, health and science correspondent

The UK's plan has shifted because the scientific modelling showed we were on course for a "catastrophic epidemic".

A strategy of just slowing the spread of the virus, but not trying to stop it, would have overwhelmed intensive care units.

The modelling by Imperial College London has been heavily informed by the experience in Italy and is influencing decisions at the heart of government.

Its calculations predicted 260,000 deaths in the UK.

Instead the plan is to drive down the number of cases to very low levels, which the models predict will limit deaths from coronavirus to the thousands or tens of thousands.

However, this approach comes with a major problem - there is no exit strategy.

Without the immunity that would build up if people were infected, then cases would soar as soon as measures are lifted.

The report said these could need to be in place until a vaccine is available, which could take up to 18 months.

We are in this for the long haul.

Presentational grey line

"We are in a war against an invisible killer," Mr Hancock said, adding that emergency legislation to tackle the virus would be introduced to Parliament on Thursday.

Some legislation will pass through the Commons unopposed this week as MPs feel the pressure to tackle coronavirus.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK's chief scientific adviser, said further measures such as closing schools may be necessary at some point.

"Those things need to be done at the right time," he said.

'Fast upswing' in cases

The total number of people in the UK to test positive for the virus has risen by 171 in a day to a total of 1,543, according to the latest Department of Health figures. The latest cases include 30 more from Wales and 18 in Scotland.

Sir Patrick said the UK is now "three weeks" behind Italy.

Italy, the worst-affected nation outside China - where the virus originated - has more than 20,000 cases and has suffered more than 1,800 deaths.

Sir Patrick added: "It looks like we're on the fast upswing or just about to get there and that's the reason to want to get in quite quickly with these measures."

However, Prof Whitty added that the chance of dying with the virus "for any individual person" was "very low".

Most of those who have died in the UK have been people over the age of 60 with underlying health conditions.

Whole households to stay at home

Prof Whitty said if one person in any household starts to display symptoms, everyone living there must stay at home for 14 days.

Mr Johnson said the stay at home advice means people should, if possible, avoid leaving the house "even to buy food or essentials".

He said people could leave home to do exercise but should do so at a safe distance from others.

Prof Whitty said social restrictions would be "very difficult for people to maintain" but they would be "doing it to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed".

All non-essential public access to the Houses of Parliament will be stopped in response to the virus.

Commons Speaker Sir Hoyle urged MPs and peers to heed the latest advice.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn criticised the government's communication strategy and lack of support for low wage citizens. He said, despite being 70, he would not follow any advice to self-isolate.

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