Is rationing on the way? 13 questions on coronavirus

By Ryan Hooper, PA Chief Reporter

The UK could be forced into a lockdown scenario if the Government feels people are not heeding warnings about social distancing in an attempt to stem the coronavirus being spread.

The situation is changing daily, but the advice currently remains the same: stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.

Here are some of the key questions facing people across the country.

A woman walks a dog in Battersea Park, London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

– What is social distancing?

The coronavirus can be spread by people coughing and spluttering at close proximity to others.

So, as infection protection measures go, the rules on social distancing are fairly simple.

The Government stipulates people should keep two metres away from others as much as possible if they go outside.

Some supermarkets have drawn markings on the floor to help, but photographs from across parks, beaches and other public places over the weekend demonstrate those warnings are being ignored.

– And why is it so controversial?

Simply, because it seems some people do not want to do it.

It’s also driven a horse and cart through people’s social calendars – sporting events, concerts and other social gatherings have been ditched, while pubs, restaurants, shops and cinemas have all been closed since the weekend.

People have been encouraged to stay at home. At the same time, they are also being told they can exercise.

With that kind of mixed message it’s little wonder people are confused.

– Being effectively house-bound is more boring than I imagined. When is it OK for me to go out the house?

Current advice is you can go for a walk or exercise outdoors providing you stay more than two metres from others.

A jog around the block is fine – the health secretary has said it is important to exercise. A game of 11-a-side football with the pub regulars (who obviously have more time on their hands since the White Hart closed its doors) is not.

People have been encouraged to keep windows open to let in fresh air, get some natural sunlight where possible, or to go outside into private gardens for those who have them.

The Litten Tree pub in Coventry, which has been closed indefinitely (Jacob King/PA Wire)

– What’s the Government’s emergency legislation all about?

MPs are on Monday due to debate and sign off on strict measures that would grant ministers, councils, police, health professionals and coroners increased controls that are due to last for up to two years.

Changes include giving police authority to force those infected with Covid-19 to self-isolate, and reducing the number of doctors required to sign off sectioning those with mental health issues from two to one.

– Will that make it even harder to get out and about?

Almost certainly. That’s the point – the more people mix, the increased likelihood of spreading the disease further.

But Downing Street stressed the measures were “temporary, proportionate to the threat we face, and will only be used when strictly necessary”.

– So many shops are closing, what will stay open?

High street staples from fashion to food have closed their doors to protect staff. Supermarkets, however, are largely staying open to help provide food to those in need.

The retail industry has insisted there is enough food for everyone and ministers have said rationing is unnecessary, but customers have been faced with empty shelves and have struggled to get everything on their shopping lists.

Closed shops along Edinburgh’s Victoria Street during the coronavirus outbreak (Jane Barlow/PA)

– Is food rationing on the way then?

Ministers have been playing down the prospect, insisting producers can cope with demand and blaming shortages on “selfish” hoarders.

But food policy expert Professor Tim Lang said the Government should stop blaming the public for buying food and should look at devising a food rationing scheme based on health needs, taking account of age, income, and vulnerability.

– Have frontline medics got the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to avoid infection while treating the ill?

Some doctors’ leaders have said not. The chair of the Doctors’ Association Dr Rinesh Parmar said doctors “feel like cannon fodder” and “GPs tell us that they feel absolutely abandoned”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has admitted there have been “challenges” with the supply of PPE but insisted “we’re on it and trying to solve all the problems”.

He said every hospital had now had a delivery of protective equipment and the military has been brought in to help with the logistics.

Shoppers queue outside a branch of Costco, in Croydon, south London, on the weekend (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

– Is a further lockdown on the way after all the evidence of people flocking in great numbers to open spaces across many parts of the UK?

Mr Hancock has said the Government is willing to take “more action” if needed and said people who are ignoring social distancing advice to stay two metres apart are “very selfish”.

– Not being able to go out has at least soothed the strain on my wallet. Can I boost it further by getting a rebate on my train season ticket?

Yes, in most cases. The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced the measure will help people with season tickets or Advance tickets who are no longer travelling.

The minimum amount of time left on a ticket for it to be eligible for a refund is around three days for a weekly ticket, seven days for a monthly ticket and three months for an annual ticket.

The move is designed to give people greater incentive to stay at home.

– I’m no scientist, but what’s the latest on vaccines?

A coronavirus vaccine is due to be tested on humans from next month.

But experts say it is unlikely to be widely available for well over a year yet – which puts even more emphasis on people doing the right thing and reducing the spread of the virus themselves.

A vaccine for the coronavirus is unlikely to be ready for widespread use any time soon (David Cheskin/PA)

– Thousands of people die from flu every year in the UK – why is this so different? 

Because so little is known about coronavirus.

Seasonal flu puts people in hospital every year.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, said getting fewer than 20,000 coronavirus deaths in the UK would be a “good outcome”.

To put it into perspective, the number of deaths from seasonal flu across the country is thought to be 8,000.

But this is the first time many medics are coming into contact with patients infected with Covid-19. It means we don’t know how far it will spread, how many will be infected, and of those how many will die.

It is a total wildcard.

– Okay, final question – for now: how long is this going to last?

Nobody knows. Nobody.

But even once the virus is contained, the impact on business and society generally will last for a lot longer.