Coronavirus: Boris Johnson urges public to stop all ‘non-essential contact’

By Jane Kirby, Sam Blewett and Aine Fox, PA

All people in the UK should avoid pubs, clubs and theatres, stop all non-essential contact and travel, and work from home if they can, Boris Johnson has said.

The Prime Minister set out the need for “drastic action” to tackle the “fast growth” of coronavirus across the UK as increased social distancing measures are introduced for the population.

As part of the measures, anyone living in a household with somebody who has either a persistent cough or fever must now also isolate themselves for 14 days.

All people should avoid gatherings and crowded places, while people who are vulnerable – including those who are elderly – will need to undertake even more drastic measures.

The measures were announced as the death toll of people with coronavirus in the UK reached 55.

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The Prime Minister said that according to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) “it looks as though we are now approaching the fast growth part of the upward curve” in the number of cases.

“Without drastic action cases could double every five or six days,” he said.

Mr Johnson said that from Tuesday mass gatherings are something “we are now moving emphatically away from”.

He said “if you or anyone in your household” had one of the two symptoms – a high temperature or continuous cough – “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.”

In a dramatic escalation of the Government’s response, Mr Johnson said all members of the public needed to take extra action.

“Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel,” he said.

Mr Johnson said London appeared to be “a few weeks ahead” of other areas and urged people in the capital to pay special attention to the measures – including home working –  suggested by the Government.

Mr Johnson added: “We want to ensure that this period of shielding, this period of maximum protection, coincides with the peak of the disease and it is now clear that the peak of the epidemic is coming faster in some parts of the country than in others.”

He also said “unnecessary” visits to friends and relatives in care homes should cease.

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Mr Johnson said the advice about avoiding all social contact was particularly important for people over 70, for pregnant women and for those with some health conditions.

By the weekend, those groups particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 will be asked to stay at home for 12 weeks to ensure they are “largely shielded from social contact”, he said.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock later told the Commons that the advice applied to those with underlying health conditions who would be contacted by the NHS and told what they should do.

Mr Johnson said: “Clearly what we’re announcing today is a very substantial change in the way that we want people to live their lives and I can’t remember anything like it in my lifetime. I don’t think there has really been anything like it in peacetime.

“And we have to accept that it is a very considerable psychological, behavioural change that we’re asking you, we’re asking the public, the nation to do.

“But I have absolutely no doubt that we can do it, that we can do it together.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs: “‘We will fight this virus with everything we’ve got – we are in a war against an invisible killer.”

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.”

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.

Chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, said 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.

He added: “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 the group of people who should take this advice particularly seriously “are older people above 70, people who in adult life would normally be advised to have the flu vaccination, so these are people with chronic diseases such as chronic heart disease or chronic kidney disease, and also – as a precautionary measure because we are early in our understanding and we want to be sure – women who are pregnant.

“Those are the groups we want to take particular care to minimise their social contact which of course will have very significant risks for them,” he added.

In other developments:

– A prison officer at HMP High Down, south London, has tested positive for coronavirus;

– Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), urged countries to “test, test, test” every case. This is in contrast to what is happening in the UK, where only the most serious cases are now being followed up;

– Pulse magazine reported that some GP practices have been supplied with expired face masks that have concealed “best before” stickers;

– A British man is seriously ill with Covid-19 in Vietnam, where he is on a ventilator to help him breathe, Vietnamese media reported;

– Children who develop a continuous cough or fever at school should be sent home with suspected coronavirus, new guidance says;

– The universal free TV licence for over-75s will end on August 1 instead of June 1, because of the coronavirus outbreak, the BBC announced;

– Mr Hancock said there had been an “enthusiastic response” to the Government’s request for factories to aid in the production of additional ventilators;

– Flight schedules have been slashed by British Airways’ parent company IAG and easyJet. Virgin is also making cuts;

– A petition for all doctors and nurses in the UK to be tested for coronavirus if they show symptoms has gained thousands of signatures.

Some in the scientific community have criticised the Government up until now for taking a slower and more relaxed response to the pandemic than other countries.

Across the UK, 1,543 people have tested positive for Covid-19, up from 1,372 at the same time on Sunday. However, many thousands more are estimated to have been infected.

About 170,000 people have been infected by Covid-19 across the world and more than 6,500 have died.