Boris Johnson addresses the country on coronavirus
He also called for people to stop any “unnecessary” travel around the country and appealed for everyone who can to work from home. His “draconian” measures followed warnings the number of infections in the UK will double every five or six days unless drastic action is taken. Officials warned the measures will be in force for a “prolonged period” lasting several months.
Admitting the Government was demanding “a very substantial change in the way that we want people to live their lives”, the Prime Minister said: “I can’t remember anything like it in my lifetime. I don’t think there has been anything like it in peacetime.
“We have to accept that it’s a very considerable, psychological behavioural change that we are asking the public, the nation to do. But I’ve absolutely no doubt we can do it together.”
Other sweeping measures announced by the Government include calling for all households where anyone has symptoms to quarantine themselves for 14 days.
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And from this weekend, those most at risk from dying from the virus such as people aged over 70 or those with serious health conditions will be told to “shield” themselves from social contact for around 12 weeks.
Pregnant women will also be told to shield themselves from social contact because of medical uncertainty about the threat to unborn babies.
Mr Johnson gave the go-ahead to the “draconian” measures at a meeting of his Cobra emergency planning committee yesterday following expert warnings that the virus is set to spread dramatically.
Figures from NHS England yesterday showed that further 19 people had died after testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the total number of deaths in England to 53
There had also been one death in Wales and one in Scotland bringing the total number of deaths in the UK to 55.
Officials also confirmed testing for the virus in Britain will widen after the World Health Organization yesterday urged all countries to ramp up testing programmes.
Speaking in Geneva, the organisation’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “We have a simple message to all countries – test, test, test.”
Mr Johnson’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said: “We do intend to continue to scale up testing.
“Test every suspected case. If they test positive, isolate them and find out who they have been in close contact with up to two days before they developed symptoms, and test those people too.
Coronavirus and the UK
“Every day more tests are being produced to meet the global demand.”
Prof Whitty, said that measures to tackle the spread of the disease would need to be in place for a “prolonged period” and that the Government was trying to prevent “indirect deaths” – where people die because they cannot get the right medical care.
At the first of daily ministerial news conferences promised following demands for clearer public information about the epidemic, Mr Johnson warned that confirmed infections are set to rise rapidly.
“It looks as though we’re now approaching the fast growth part of the upward curve.
“And without drastic action, cases could double every 5 or 6 days,” he said.
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Unveiling his measures, the Prime Minister said entire households will now have to go into a fortnight’s isolation even if just one member has a new persistent cough or a high temperature.
“We need to ask you to ensure that if you or anyone in your household has one of those two symptoms, then you should stay at home for fourteen days,” he said.
“That means that if possible you should not go out even to buy food or essentials, other than for exercise, and in that case at a safe distance from others.
“If necessary, you should ask for help from others for your daily necessities.
“And if that is not possible, then you should do what you can to limit your social contact when you leave the house to get supplies.
“And even if you don’t have symptoms and if no one in your household has symptoms, there is more that we need you to do now.”
Announcing drastic “social distancing” measures, he added: “Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel.
“We need people to start working from home where they possibly can. And you should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues.”
Officials confirmed the recommended ban should extend to all social gathering such as parties in homes.
Mr Johnson insisted the Government was stopping short of a full lockdown with the ban being legally enforced. He said the country was a “mature liberal democracy” where people could be trusted to do the right thing.
“What we are doing is giving very strong advice that public venues such as theatres should no longer be visited.
“The proprietors of those venues are taking the logical steps that you would imagine, you are seeing the change happen already.
“As for enforcement, we have the powers if necessary but I don’t believe it will be necessary to use those powers,” he said.
From today, the Government will no longer allow police and paramedics to attend large public events to minimise the pressure on the NHS and other public services.
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Warning of forthcoming measures, the Prime Minister said: “In a few days’ time – by this coming weekend – it will be necessary to go further and to ensure that those with the most serious health conditions are largely shielded from social contact for around 12 weeks.
“And again the reason for doing this in the next few days, rather than earlier or later, is that this is going to be very disruptive for people who have such conditions, and difficult for them, but, I believe, it’s now necessary.
“And we want to ensure that this period of shielding, this period of maximum protection coincides with the peak of the disease.”
Mr Johnson insisted the sacrifices would be “worth it” to stop the speed of the disease.
“I know that many people – including millions of fit and active people over 70 – may feel, listening to what I have just said, that there is something excessive about these measures.
“But I have to say, I believe that they are overwhelmingly worth it to slow the spread of the disease, to reduce the peak, to save life, minimise suffering and to give our NHS the chance to cope,” he said.
Mr Johnson said the advice to people over 70 to shield themselves from social contact should extend to MPs and peers in the age group.
“We will obviously be wanting to make sure that democracy carries on, that we protect our parliamentary institutions but clearly those who are vulnerable – and lots of Members of Parliament of both Houses may come into that category – should receive the protections that they need,” he said.
He added: “I know that today we are asking a lot of everybody. It is far more now than just washing your hands – though clearly washing your hands remains important.
“But I can tell you that across this country, people and businesses in my experience are responding with amazing energy and creativity to the challenge that we face, and I want to thank everybody for the part that you are playing and are going to play.”
The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said these latest measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 would have a “big effect”.
“This is not a series of small interventions. You would anticipate that this could have a dramatic effect to reduce the peak and to reduce death rates,” he said.
“This is a matter for us to take accountability to make sure we help each other, protect ourselves and protect the NHS.”
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Sir Patrick said the UK is now looking “more like three weeks” behind Italy, the epicentre of the European outbreak of Covid-19.
He said other measures may be necessary – including school closures – at some point.
The Government experts declined to say how long the new measures will stay in force for but it warned it would be a “prolonged period.
Prof Whitty said: “This is going to go on for some time. We should not be under any illusions that ‘if we just do this for a couple of weeks that is sufficient’.
Prof Whitty said people taking measures to minimise social contact would help the NHS.
He said: “A significant number of other deaths which if the NHS became overwhelmed in any of the four nations if the intensive care units got to the point when they were overwhelmed then people would die from indirect deaths because they did not have the ability to get medical care.
“And a lot of what we are trying to do is trying to reduce the chance that those indirect deaths might occur.”
Prof Whitty said that protecting care home residents will be one of “the most challenging things” to deal with during the Covid-19 outbreak.
He said: “Let me be clear, that the ‘how to protect people in care homes and nursing homes?’ is going to be one of the most challenging things for every nation on this question.
“Because of course they are vulnerable and they do have to move in and out of health services from time to time.”
Published at Tue, 17 Mar 2020 00:01:00 +0000