In the first of what are to become daily press briefings, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave “very strong advice” to the UK on Monday to avoid all unnecessary social contact and indicated that measures to combat the spread of Coronavirus (Covid-19) could last for months.
In a broadcast alongside chief medical advisers Professors Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, the prime minister announced that the UK appears to be approaching what is called the “fast growth” phase of the rate of infection curve, meaning cases are expected to double on average every five days.
Those who can are being told to work from home if possible and to avoid usual places of contact such as pubs, clubs, and theatres. All non-essential travel is being advised against.
While schools have not being closed at this time, the option is still on the table.
The PM is now urging families to stay home for 14 days if any single member is infected with symptoms such as a fever or a persistent cough, up from seven days last week.
"This advice about avoiding all unnecessary social contact, is particularly important for people over 70, for pregnant women and for those with some health conditions", he said.
"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", he added.
He also called on people only to use National Health Service (NHS) facilities if they "really need to" and to make contact online rather than call 111 in order to avoid overwhelming the service. Advice for those with underlying serious health issues will be given "in a few days time".
Advice for the Most Vulnerable
Those with serious underlying health conditions will soon be asked to self-isolate for 12 weeks.
Prof Vallance said however that the 7-day advice stands. If someone lives alone and see's symptoms emerge, they should stay at home for seven days but if they live with other people, the government advise is that the whole household should isolate for 14 days.
Prof Chris Whitty said that older people are the most vulnerable and therefore must take extra care. In order to prevent a higher number of deaths, social distancing will need to be maintained in order to protect the NHS, he said.
Regarding World Health Organisation advice, Whitty said that testing for the virus would be scaled back based on geography but the government would scaling up testing. Testing for health workers is planned for the next stage and those who are confirmed negative for Coronavirus will be allowed to return to work.
The UK is about "three weeks" behind Italy, according to Prof Vallance.
The virus will be a "severe blow" to the economy, the prime minister said, but claimed that if the response is done correctly, it will be a short-term problem and sees "no reason" why economies worldwide should not come "roaring back".
In response to a question about helping low-income households impacted by the virus who may be off-work or need statutory sick pay, the PM said that the living wage is being lifted by a huge amount.
Johnson also said that the government recognises the strain on business both big and small and will provide them with "liquidity" and the space to bounce back.
"People should be thinking of a minimum of weeks or months and, depending how it goes, it may be longer", Prof Whitty added.
Business owners have criticised the move to close venues such as pubs and clubs but not enforcing closures, meaning none of them have the ability to claim insurance.
"If he had said that we cannot open, then we would have been able to claim. But this has left us in limbo and struggling to cover our costs and overheads without any insurance cover. It is not good enough", said Gareth Bentham, a pub landlord in Altrincham, the Guardian reports.
An Unprecedented Crisis
The prime minister closed the conference by highlighting the scale of the epidemic at hand.
He told the public that he does not remember any government announcing a change like this in his lifetime and that he does not think there has been anything similar in peacetime.
The total number of UK deaths from coronavirus rose to 55 on Monday with a total of 1,543 cases being confirmed. The NHS estimates as of Friday there are likely between 5,000 to 10,000 cases across the country.