Prime minister moves UK response to delay phase as positive cases rise to 596
Boris Johnson warned the British public to prepare to “lose loved ones before their time” on Thursday, as scientists admitted that up to 10,000 people could already have coronavirus in the UK.
The prime minister said anyone with symptoms, including a “new, continuous” cough or high temperature, must stay at home for seven days as of today, as the government officially moved its strategy from the “contain” to “delay” phase.
But despite describing the threat of coronavirus as “the worst public health crisis for a generation”, Mr Johnson said he would not follow the example of Ireland and Italy and close schools and ban sporting events to limit the spread of the disease.
In a sign of growing nervousness at Westminster that Mr Johnson was not getting ahead of the outbreak, Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, called for more aggressive action, including closing care homes for the elderly to outside visitors.
He said countries like Thailand and Taiwan had controlled the outbreak by taking such action. “People will be concerned we are not moving sooner on social distancing,” Mr Hunt told Channel 4 News.
Amid accusations that the UK is moving too slowly, Mr Johnson insisted the government would continue to be guided by the scientific advice, which suggested closing schools “could do more harm than good”.
The government is coming under increasing pressure to ban big public events, such as sporting fixtures. But Mr Johnson said it would have “little effect” on halting the spread. However, the government confirmed that the second round of Brexit talks, scheduled for London next week, could be delayed, while local elections in May are also set to be postponed for at least five months.
While the health department said the number of British cases had risen to 596, Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific officer, suggested that between 5,000 and 10,000 people in the UK could have the virus. Ten people are known to have died of it in the UK.
“It’s not possible to stop everyone getting it and it’s also not desirable because you want some immunity in the population to protect ourselves in the future,” he said.