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Government introduces ‘drastic action’ against coronavirus

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has asked everyone to ‘stop non-essential contact’ with others regardless of whether they have coronavirus (Covid-19) symptoms.

In the first of what will be daily briefings, Mr Johnson said this comes as scientific advisers say the epidemic is now reaching a stage of ‘fast growth’ in the UK.

He said this meant that ‘without drastic action’ – spanning the whole of the UK – cases could double every five or six days.

The Government announced:

  • People with symptoms – along with their whole households – should stay at home for 14 days and don’t go out except for exercise, during which they must keep their distance.
  • People should work from home where at all possible.
  • People should avoid pubs, restaurants, clubs and theatres.
  • From tomorrow, the Government will not be supporting mass gatherings with emergency workers.
  • From the weekend, it will become necessary to ask the most vulnerable to stay shielded for 12 weeks.
  • Unnecessary travel should be reduced and stopped.
  • Schools are not yet closing, but it may become necessary.

He said: ‘Last week we asked everyone to stay at home if you had one of two key symptoms: a high temperature; or a new and continuous cough. Today we need to go further, because according to SAGE – the scientific advisory committee on emergencies – it looks as though we are now approaching the fast growth part of the upward curve, and without drastic action cases could double every five or six days.

‘So first 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 14 days. 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.’

He said people in self-isolation should ‘ask for help from others’ for their ‘daily necessities’, or if impossible do what they can to limit contact with others when they leave the house to get supplies.

He went on to say that ‘even if you don’t have symptoms’ and ‘if no one in your household has symptoms’ the Government needs people to ‘do more’.

‘So 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.

‘And it goes without saying, we should all only use the NHS when we need to, and please go online rather than ringing NHS 111.’

He said the advice about avoiding social contact was ‘particularly important for people over 70, pregnant women and people with some health conditions.

He admitted the measures were ‘draconian’ and ‘difficult’ but were aimed at reducing the numbers of fatalities, focusing on the most vulnerable.

‘So in a few days time, by this 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.’

The Prime Minister said this period of shielding would need to coincide with the peak of the epidemic, but said it is becoming clear that the peak is coming faster in some parts of the country than in others.

He said: ‘It looks as though London is now a few weeks ahead, so to relieve the pressure on the London health system, and to slow the spread in London, it is important that Londoners now pay special attention to what we are saying about avoiding non-essential contact and to take particularly seriously the advice about working from home and avoiding confined spaces such as pubs and restaurants.’

The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said: ‘We have looked, along with SAGE, at measures that can save lives and protect people. The objectives… are to really supress the curve in order to keep it below NHS capacity, so that the NHS can cope, and to shield the vulnerable and those most likely to get severe disease, so that we protect them across this period.’

Sir Patrick went on to explain why households are now being asked to isolate for 14 days – up from last week’s advice for individuals to isolate for seven days if they have a cough or a fever.

He said: ‘The measures, as the Prime Minister has outlined, include whole household isolation. So if one person gets the symptoms of new persistent cough or fever, the whole household stays isolated for 14 days. The reason it is 14 days, is the seven days for the person has got the infection, the incubation period that others may catch it, and the seven days after that.’

Addressing MPs in the House of Commons this evening, health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘These actions will change the ordinary lives of everyone in this country.

We appreciate that they are very significant and I understand that people will be concerned. But we have come to the view that they are necessary to save lives and to stop this disease.’

Today’s update on the situation in the UK saw 1,543 confirmed cases including 55 deaths.