Coronavirus: Follow government advice and COVID-19 pandemic will be over quicker, Britons told

Alan McGuinness, political reporter

The health secretary has urged Britons to follow the government's coronavirus advice - saying life will return to normal more quickly if everyone does so.

Matt Hancock said that embracing social distancing measures will help the UK avoid "difficult situations" like those seen in Italy, where hospitals are overwhelmed with gravely ill patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

"The more people follow the public health advice, the quicker we will be through this and the quicker we will be back to normal," he told Sky News.

Mr Hancock added: "If people follow the advice, we'll get through this quicker and we won't have to enforce these draconian enforcements that we've seen in other places in Europe."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Britons on Monday to avoid pubs, clubs, restaurants and theatres, in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But there have been reports of people not heeding the government's advice.

Downing Street has moved to dampen down speculation that a full-scale lockdown of London could be enforced to combat the virus in the capital.

There had been speculation that Number 10 was considering such a step, but the PM's official spokesman said there was "zero prospect" of any restrictions being placed on travelling in and out of London.

Around 1.4 million people classed as vulnerable will be contacted by the NHS from Monday and told to self-isolate, Mr Hancock also revealed.

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"People in those categories should be shielded and should take themselves away from all social contact from Monday onwards," he said.

"We appreciate that is a really big ask and really difficult, but again it's for people's own protection, to protect others and protect the NHS."

The health secretary said the government would set out what conditions this will apply to.

Mr Hancock continued: "Many of these people have pre-existing health conditions and so will be very worried right now, and I understand that, and they'll need very specific sets of action - for instance, how do you go about still getting your chemo if you have cancer whilst also social-distancing?

"If you have cancer it's particularly important to stay away from other people, but you also of course have got to keep going with your chemotherapy."

Mr Hancock added: "These are some of the most difficult and challenging cases so we'll be getting in contact with them, but if people think that they are on this list and don't receive a communication from the NHS, then they also need to get in contact.

"So that is under way, the money was announced for it yesterday. A combination of money to the NHS and money to councils because they've got a very big part to play in keeping people safe."

The health secretary also said the government is looking "very, very closely" at why there is a coronavirus hotspot in the West Midlands, with 28 deaths recorded there.

"It's something that we're looking at very, very closely to find out why, frankly," he told Sky News.

"I mean, the spread of a disease like this does tend to be in areas of hotspot and then broadening out from them.

"What we've got to do ... is to respond as well as possible."

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As of 1pm on Thursday, there were 3,269 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.

The number of people who have died after contracting coronavirus in the UK currently stands at 144.

Speaking at a Downing Street news conference on Thursday, the PM revealed the government is in talks to buy "hundreds of thousands" of tests to reveal if people are immune.

"We are in negotiations today to buy a so-called antibody test, as simple as a pregnancy test, that could tell whether you have had the disease," Mr Johnson said.

"It's early days, but if it works as its proponents claim, then we will buy literally hundreds of thousands of these kits as soon as practicable because obviously it has the potential to be a total gamechanger.

"Because once you know that you have had it, you know that you are likely to be less vulnerable, you're less likely to pass it on, and you can go back to work."