Families with just one member who has even mild coronavirus symptoms must self-isolate for two weeks, the Government has announced.
Boris Johnson 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,’ he said.
Speaking at the first of what will be daily televised conference in Downing Street, the Prime Minister said that even those without symptoms needed to take extra action.
In a sudden escalation of the Government’s response, the PM effectively put the UK into lockdown after mounting pressure.
Mr Johnson announced the need for ‘drastic action’ to tackle the ‘fast growth’ of coronavirus cases in the UK.
Total cases have reached 1,543 today – more than doubling within four days since last Thursday. Forty patients have died.
But the figure is likely to be the ‘tip of the iceberg’ due to testing capacities.
Families with just one member who has even mild coronavirus symptoms must self-isolate for two weeks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a briefing today
OFFICIAL STATISTICS SHOW THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG OF UK’S CORONAVIRUS CRISIS
The Government’s Department of Health releases updated statistics every day at around 2pm, showing the number of people confirmed to have coronavirus and the number of test results that have been received in the past 24 hours.
But thanks to a change in the way officials are tracking the outbreak, these numbers only represent a small proportion of the real epidemic spreading across the UK.
Only people who are seriously ill and need hospital care, or who are already in hospital when they show signs of the coronavirus, are now being tested, so these are the only people who will show up in new Government figures.
People who become ill after travelling, or think they have the coronavirus after being in contact with someone who does, will not be tested unless they need hospital care. Most patients will simply self-isolate at home until they are no longer ill.
An announcement by the Government last week sheds some light on the true scale of Britain’s epidemic.
On Thursday, March 12, when the official number of cases was just 596, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the true figure was probably between 5,000 and 10,000.
Taking the upper estimate, that suggests each confirmed case is worth 16.8 undiagnosed patients.
The official number of patients is now 1,543 – multiply that by 16.8 and the potential real case toll is 25,889.
The PM 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 it is ‘clear that the peak of the epidemic is coming faster in some parts of the country than in others’.
London appears to be ‘a few weeks ahead’ of other areas, causing the PM to urge people in the capital to pay special attention to the measures – including home working – suggested by the Government.
‘Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact and to stop all non-essential travel’, the PM said, as he urged people to work from home and avoid pubs, clubs and theatres.
He acknowledged that he was ‘asking a lot’ of the public ahead of what is likely to be weeks of restrictions on daily life.
Even when families are self isolating, each person is advised to try and keep at least two to three metres apart, the NHS says.
It also warned ‘do not leave the house, for example to go for a walk, to school or public places’.
Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty encouraged people to refrain from calling the NHS 111 service so that it can be provided to those in greatest need.
‘But, (it’s) really important to stress, if anyone’s health starts to deteriorate significantly then they should phone 111 or contact health services in the way that they usually would,’ he said.
The briefing, which is the first of daily conferences, was expected to have details about steps the government may take to protect elderly and vulnerable people.
Mr Johnson said by the weekend, groups particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 will be asked to stay at home for 12 weeks.
The ‘period of shielding’ has been implemented at a time where there will be maximum protection, coinciding with the peak of the disease.
He said: ‘In a few days time, by this coming weekend it will be necessary to go further and to ensure that those with the most serious health conditions are largely shielded from social contact for around 12 weeks.
‘Again, the reason for doing this in the next few days rather than earlier or later is that this is going to be very disruptive for people who have such conditions.’
Mr Johnson said that from Tuesday the Government would no longer be supporting mass gatherings.
In a dramatic turnaround from last Friday, Mr Johnson said it was the right time to extend a ban on social contact of all kind to public events with swathes of people.
However, he noted this was to free up emergency services, rather than because transmission was likely.
‘So from tomorrow we will no longer be supporting mass gatherings with emergency workers in the way that we normally do’, Mr Johnson said.
The Government recommendations come just hours after a proposed ban of travel in and out of parts of Europe for at least 30 days was unveiled.
The restrictions would apply to all 26 Schengen nations but not the UK, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said.
The Schengen area includes 22 EU countries but not member states Ireland, Cyprus, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria.
Non EU-members Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein are also within it.
Essential travel – such as that by doctors, nurses and transport of goods – would be exempt. Emergency medical and food supplies into the bloc will be able to use special ‘fast lanes’ to ensure health services and supermarkets can cope with demand.
It came as the number of deaths in Europe came close to 2,000, with 48,277 confirmed cases.
Worldwide there have been 6,648 deaths and 173,204 cases.
There are now more cases of COVID-19 outside China, where the disease emerged in December 2019, as the epicentre moved towards Europe last week.