Coronavirus: People warned to be braced for tighter measures and potential school closures
PUBLISHED: 11:49 10 March 2020 | UPDATED: 16:48 10 March 2020
The director of public health in Norfolk has said people need to consider how they would deal with tighter measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The country is still in the 'containment' phase of its response, but is braced to introduce 'social distancing' measures when the 'delay' phase begins.
That could see school closures, along with a ban on sports events and large gatherings.
And Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk's director of public health, said the timing of such a decision was key to pushing back the epidemic's peak to the summer - when there is less pressure on the NHS.
She said: 'The containment phase is about trying to break the cycle, so we interrupt the exponential rise. Even if we can manage that down a bit, so someone on average infects just one person, rather than two or three, the number of people who become unwell will be reduced.
'Almost all the cases we have had nationally, so far, we know where or how people got it. Almost all had travelled back from countries where there are cases of the virus or were very closely linked to people who had.
'But at some point it will move beyond that, to cases where we don't know where they got it from. That will be when we move from the containment to delay phase.'
England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has said tighter measures aimed at protecting the public, particularly the vulnerable and elderly, could happen within 10 to 14 days.
It would see people with 'minor' cold, flu or fever symptoms asked to stay at home in self-isolation.
Dr Smith said: 'For now, we are saying people should still go to work and to school, but make sure they follow advice about washing hands, and catch it, bin it, kill it when coughing and sneezing.
'We are, however, getting to the point where people should increasingly think about what the impact on them would be if we said people should not move about so much.
'By that, I mean, people should be considering could they do their jobs from home? Should people be taking their laptops home and have businesses checked how their organisation would run in such situations?'
MORE: Businesses urged to plan for cases of coronavirus in Norfolk
On the prospect of Norfolk's schools closing, she said such decisions could be led at a local level, or the government might reach a point when it introduces national or geographical closures.
She said: 'I think it will depend on need or circumstances.'
The start of the UK peak of the coronavirus epidemic is expected within the next fortnight, England's deputy chief medical officer said.
Dr Jenny Harries defended the government's decision to delay closing schools and the introduction of other stringent tactics, saying experts are assessing new cases on an hourly basis to achieve a 'balanced response'.
But new measures - including those aimed at protecting the elderly and vulnerable - are expected shortly as cases rise more rapidly across the UK.
Dr Harries said the vast majority of those diagnosed with coronavirus in the UK are 'pretty well' but that they may 'feel a bit rough for a few days'.
She added: 'Within 10 to 14 days we will be likely to advise people with symptoms to self-isolate and we are expecting that start of the peak (of coronavirus cases) to come during that period.'
Dr Harries said cancelling big outdoor events like football matches would not necessarily be a decision supported by science.
'The virus will not survive very long outside,' she said. 'Many outdoor events, particularly, are relatively safe.'
Speaking on Sky News, Dr Harries said 'many thousands of people' would contract coronavirus as the disease continued to spread in the UK.
'We currently have relatively few cases here, which is why we are still in the containment phase,' she said.
'Obviously we will have significant numbers in a way in which the country is not used to.
'This is the sort of thing that professionally we're trained for and very rarely see, almost in a professional lifetime.
'Large numbers of the population will become infected because it's a naive population - nobody has got antibodies to this virus currently.
'We will see many thousands of people infected by coronavirus, that's what we're seeing in other countries, and the important thing for us is to make sure that we manage those infections.'
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, she said GPs would only visit sick people self-isolating in their own homes if absolutely necessary, due to the fact it is an infectious disease.
She added: 'Generally we expect nearly all of these patients to be fine at home, and we are working to ensure, if they need, the few that become seriously ill, to get into hospital, there will be quick mechanisms for them to do that.'
The comments came as Italy extended coronavirus travel restrictions to the whole country on Tuesday, with soldiers and police enforcing the bans.
Overall, Italy has recorded 9,172 cases of Covid-19, with 463 deaths, and figures expected to rise.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in the UK amended its advice to warn against all but essential travel to Italy.
There have yet to be any cases of coronavirus in Norfolk, but there has been one case in Suffolk.
The latest figures show that 319 people in the UK are now confirmed to have Covid-19, and five people have died in British hospitals.