Coronavirus: ‘Many more families will lose loved ones before their time’ says Boris Johnson
PUBLISHED: 17:09 12 March 2020 | UPDATED: 08:10 13 March 2020
Many more families in the United Kingdom will “lose loved ones before their time” because of coronavirus, prime minister Boris Johnson has warned, as he announced the United Kingdom has moved onto the next stage of its response to the outbreak.
Many more families in the United Kingdom will 'lose loved ones before their time' because of coronavirus, prime minister Boris Johnson has warned, as he announced the United Kingdom has moved onto the next stage of its response to the outbreak.
Mr Johnson said coronavirus 'is the worst public health crisis for a generation', as he set out measures that could 'cause severe disruption for many months'.
He said the most important task was to protect older and vulnerable people during the peak weeks - which he said were some weeks away, depending on how fast the virus spreads.
From tomorrow, if people have coronavirus symptoms, however mild, they should stay at home for at least seven days. All those over 70 with serious medical conditions are advised against going on cruises and schools told not to go on international trips.
He said schools should only close if they are specifically advised to, but said that tactic may change at some point. He said, in the future, anybody living with somebody who is taken ill will also be told to self-isolate for seven days.
And he said the government was considering banning major sporting events, but that would not happen yet, so Norwich City's weekend game against Southampton will go ahead.
Scotland is restricting gatherings at some events involving crowds of 500 or more.
Mr Johnson said the disease was particularly dangerous for older people. He said: 'I know that many people will be very worried. We should all be thinking of our elderly relatives, our neighbours and everything we can do to protect them over the next few months. 'The government will do all we can to help you and your family during this period.'
Mr Johnson said he had to level with the British public that 'many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time'.
Prof Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said the UK would not be introducing social distancing measures yet as it was not the right moment within the pandemic.
But he warned that advice would be coming for elderly and vulnerable people to isolate themselves from social gatherings.
He said: 'The next stage along we are going to want to do a package of things that are about putting social distancing around the people who are older and those with severe health conditions.
'But we do not think it is appropriate to make a national recommendation for that at the moment because it is too early in the course of the epidemic.
'If you think about what would happen if you prematurely put elderly or vulnerable in a situation where you're saying, we really want to cut down on your social interactions, to cut back on your contact with others, it has big practical implications for them and may lead to loneliness and other issues which are clearly very undesirable for them.
'While we will need to move to that stage, we do not think this is the right moment along the pandemic to do so. But that point will come.'
Mr Johnson said the country would get through the epidemic if people look after each other.
He said: 'It's clear that coronavirus Covid-19 continues and will continue to spread across the world and our country over the next few months.
'We've done what can be done to contain this disease, and this has bought us valuable time, but it's now a global pandemic.
'The number of cases will rise sharply, indeed the true number of cases is higher - perhaps much higher - than the number of cases we have so far confirmed with tests.'
The shift from containment to delay is intended to push the peak of the virus to the summer months, to ease pressure on the NHS.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, said the actual number of people infected in the UK at the moment could be between 5,000 and 10,000.
The change was confirmed by Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon following a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee chaired by the prime minister.
The move came as two more deaths were announced in British hospitals and the number of people who had tested positive for coronavirus reached almost 600.
Ten people have now died in the UK after testing positive for Covid-19 and 596 people are known to have contracted the virus.
The latest deaths were of an 89-year-old at Charing Cross Hospital in London and a woman in her sixties at Queen's Hospital in Romford. Both had underlying health conditions.
Public Health England has released new stay-at-home guidance for those with confirmed or suspected cases of coronavirus.
The advice states not to go to work, school, or public areas, use public transport or taxis - or even go for a walk.
In the guidance, those with even mild symptoms of infection are also urged to stay at least two metres away from other people in their homes whenever possible and to sleep alone.
Where possible, those with confirmed or suspected cases should use a separate bathroom from the rest of the household.
For infected people with shared toilets and bathrooms, the Government advice says to clean them after every use.
The recommended period of self-isolation has also reduced from 14 days to one week, as most people will no longer be likely to transmit the virus a week after the onset of symptoms.
Ms Sturgeon said: 'The decision has been taken that we have now moved from a contain phase into the delay phase where the objective is to seek to slow down the spread of the virus, to reduce the numbers who will be infected at the peak, the number infected at any one time.'
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From Friday, anyone with symptoms indicative of coronavirus should self-isolate for seven days, she said.
From Monday, mass gatherings in Scotland are set to be restricted as Ms Sturgeon said it is 'inappropriate that we continue as normal'.
She acknowledged the move, which will apply to some events involving crowds of 500 or more, will 'not have a significant impact on the spread of the virus' but it will ease pressure on frontline emergency services.
It comes as Ireland announced the closure of schools and tourist attractions until the end of the month.
Irish premier Leo Varadkar said schools, colleges and childcare facilities will close until March 29 as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, which is now regarded as a global pandemic.
Museums, galleries and other tourist destinations will also close as a result of the action.
Mr Varadkar said: 'I know that some of this is coming as a real shock and it is going to involve big changes in the way we live our lives.
'I know that I am asking people to make enormous sacrifices. We're doing it for each other.'
The total number of Covid-19 cases in the Republic stands at 43 and there has been one death.
Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said it was still too early to say whether steps taken in Ireland were a 'sensible precaution or an overreaction for the current stage of the epidemic'.
He added: 'Different countries are at different stages of the epidemic so what one country should do will not apply to others, we need to be guided by the local epidemiology and the science.
'This is why currently the UK has not followed these measures. Schools will close soon for the Easter holidays which will give some idea of the impact of this measure. Parents have already planned for childcare during these weeks.
'Closing schools has a number of known consequences. It might make the epidemic or ability to manage the consequences worse.'
He said closing schools could lead to a reduction in the health and social care workforce as people have to look after children.
It could also lead to an increase in grandparents delivering childcare.
'This age group is at much greater risk,' he said.
What should people be doing to stem the spread?
Wash your hands with soap and water often - do this for at least 20 seconds
Wash your hands when you get home or into work
Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
Put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterwards
Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of coronavirus are a cough, high temperature and a shortage of breath.
But those symptoms are similar to other illnesses such as cold and flu.
What should I do if I think I might have it?
People who think they might have coronavirus should not go to GP surgeries, pharmacies or hospitals.
They should call 111 if they really need to speak to somebody, while NHS 111 has an online service.
Anyone with symptoms should self-isolate for at least seven days.