Coronavirus: Boris Johnson to urge 'national effort' in COVID-19 fight after 10 more deaths

·4-min read

Boris Johnson will ask manufacturing firms to ramp up the production of ventilators amid concerns that critical care facilities will come under intense pressure as the coronavirus crisis intensifies.

The NHS could also buy up thousands of beds in private hospitals to boost capacity if COVID-19 spreads rapidly through the population.

The prime minister will urge companies to join a "national effort" to tackle the virus, which is confirmed to have infected 1,140 people in the UK, 21 of whom have died.

In an acknowledgement of the almost wartime measures being introduced, Health Secretary Matt Hancock wrote in the Sunday Telegraph: "Our generation has never been tested like this.

"Our grandparents were, during the Second World War, when our cities were bombed during the Blitz.

"Despite the pounding every night, the rationing, the loss of life, they pulled together in one gigantic national effort.

"Today our generation is facing its own test, fighting a very real and new disease."

He added that everyone would have to make sacrifices to protect not only themselves, but "especially those most vulnerable to the disease".

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In a conference call on Monday, Mr Johnson will tell businesses that the government will buy up their stocks of ventilators once they have been produced.

Ventilators are an essential part of treating those who are admitted to hospital in the most severe cases of COVID-19, when a sticky mucus fills patients' lungs preventing them from breathing.

It follows government efforts to increase the supply of ventilators to the NHS from around the world, although the virus is impacting health services globally with more than 155,000 confirmed cases.

The chairman of Unipart, a company which manufactures precision parts and manages a significant part of the NHS warehousing and logistics chain, said he supported the government's request.

Chairman John Neill said: "This is a critical initiative - there are a lot of talented people already working at a great speed on this, it has my and other's full-hearted support."

The NHS plans to update its guidance next week, explaining how it will increase its capacity to manage demand over the course of the outbreak.

In other developments:

Negotiations are also taking place with private health firms about access to their hospital beds.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: "The public are right to be proud of the NHS, but the scale of the challenge we face means we can't do this alone.

"We will be providing further operational instructions to all hospitals to help them prepare. But we need every part of society and every industry to ask what they can do to help the effort."

Other measures to combat the spread of the virus are expected to include steps to shield the vulnerable - including the elderly and those with existing health problems - from the virus by telling them to stay in their houses or care homes.

There could also be a shift to household isolation rather than individual self-isolation.

School closures are also being considered as an option.

Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster, who has attended the COBRA meetings formulating the UK's response, suggested that schools would need to be closed for four months if that step was taken.

"Schools will not be closed immediately but schools and parents should prepare because when they do they will close for at least 16 weeks," she warned.

Jeremy Corbyn has asked the PM to agree to provide emergency support for those affected by the coronavirus, demanding a financial package which would include higher statutory sick pay, as well as rent deferrals and so-called "mortgage holidays".

In a letter to Mr Johnson, the Labour leader has called for financial protections "for all, including insecure, low paid and self-employed workers, during self-isolation and illness".

He said that rent deferrals and mortgage holidays were necessary "so that landlords cannot evict tenants and mortgage companies cannot take action against homeowners".

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The 10 new UK victims who died since Friday were all aged over 60 and had underlying health conditions.

It was the largest number of deaths announced on a single day since the start of the outbreak and brings the UK's total number of fatalities to 21, with 20 in England and one in Scotland.

The victims were being cared for by nine trusts including Buckinghamshire, Sandwell & West Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Leicester, Barts, London, north Middlesex and Chester.

There have been 1,140 positive tests for coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Saturday, up from 798 at the same time on Friday.

The PM warned on Thursday that the coronavirus outbreak was "the worst public health crisis in a generation" and said "many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time".

He said measures which would cause "severe disruption across our country for many months" would be rolled out, but it was vital they were not introduced too early.

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