These eerie images show London’s usually heaving nightspots deserted as theatres shut and restaurants closed, just hours after the Prime Minister urged people to stay at home and avoid social contact for 12 weeks.
The PM warned last night that the coronavirus was now in a phase of rapid spread across the UK, with London seeing a particular surge, and it was time to take radical action to stop the NHS being swamped.
Everyone should avoid contact that is not absolutely necessary – with restaurants, bars and cinemas and travel off limits, and an end to large gatherings. Admitting that the squeeze could last 12 weeks or even longer, Mr Johnson recognised he was ‘asking a lot’.
Mr Johnson acknowledged last night the measures were ‘draconian’ but insisted they would save lives. ‘This is a very substantial change in the way we want people to live their lives,’ he said. ‘I don’t think there has been anything like it in peace time.’
Just hours after the Prime Minister’s press conference, pictures showed empty streets in the normally bustling capital city last night, as cafes, restaurants and bars lay empty – in an unnerving sign of things to come.
London’s Chinatown stood eerily deserted, as normally busy pubs in the West End had no punters, and theatres stood empty after suspending productions.
The new measures also prompted the cancellation of the Grand National, and Premiership Rugby confirmed it has suspended play for five weeks, while further disruption to the sporting calendar is expected to be announced in the coming days.
The capital has already been stripped of many commuters, with photos yesterday morning showing empty train stations and roads on routes in and out of the city.
Many workers based in London on Monday snubbed public transport and a District Line tube had just a handful of passengers on what would usually be a packed train.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the number of train passengers had fallen by a fifth over the last week, admitting on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that railways have ‘seen a big drop off’ because of the outbreak.
It came after ministers were warned the death toll from the virus could hit 260,000 unless dramatic measures were taken immediately.
Restaurants, bars , cinemas and clubs in the West End of London all looking very quiet admit the virus concerns on Monday night
A restaurant in the middle of the West End hours after Boris Johnson’s announcement that people should stay away from pubs, restaurants and other eateries
Chinatown in the middle of Soho has barely any people wandering the streets, in an area popular with tourists
The Crown, a popular pub, does not appear to be open in the deserted streets of the West End on Monday evening
Empty tables outside a restaurant in Canary Wharf, London. The Government’s advice for people to avoid pubs, clubs and theatres in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus
A couple sit at a restaurant on usually busy street in Clapham, as the number of coronavirus cases grow around the world
A normally packed Leicester Square has only a few people walking through it on Monday night, as London is deserted
The clampdown could last for months as ministers battle to reduce the peak of the epidemic to a level the NHS can manage, potentially saving thousands of lives.
Government figures published last night suggested the death toll might be reduced below 20,000 if all possible measures were taken, including school and university closures, which are not yet on the agenda.
But it warned that restrictions might have to stay in place until a vaccine is found – perhaps 18 months or more.
What is the Government recommending I do and what is it doing to tackle coronavirus in the UK?
- Avoid social contact
- Work from home if possible
- Avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other social venues
- If someone in your household has symptoms of coronavirus you should all self-isolate for 14 days
- If isolating, only go outside for exercise well away from other people
- Ask for help with daily necessities like food and medical supplies
- If that is not possible – for example if you live in a remote area – you should limit social contact as much as possible
- Vulnerable groups should self-isolate for 12 weeks from this weekend even if they have no symptoms
- This includes people aged 70 and over and other adults who would normally be advised to have the flu vaccination, including people with chronic diseases such as chronic heart disease or chronic kidney disease, and pregnant women
- All unnecessary visits to friends and relatives in care homes should cease
- Schools to remain open for the time being
- Londoners need to socially distance and work from home even more than the rest of the UK because the disease is more widespread there
- Mass gatherings will no longer receive emergency services cover if they do go ahead
- Increase in coronavirus testing with ‘complete surveillance’ testing in intensive care, hospitals testing patients with pneumonia and GPs testing in the community
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said: ‘This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. People should be thinking of a minimum of weeks to months and depending how it goes it could be longer. It is really important people realise they are in for the long haul.
‘But if we are to defend the ability of the NHS to treat people, if we are to minimise mortality, we have got to see this as a long game.’ From today, families are being asked to self-isolate at home for a fortnight if a single member of the household develops key symptoms, such as a persistent dry cough and temperature.
The over-70s, pregnant women and people with conditions including diabetes and asthma were urged to take particular care to distance themselves from risk, with No 10 saying older people should no longer look after their grandchildren or host families and friends at home.
Special measures will be brought forward this week to ‘shield’ more than a million people with serious conditions, such as leukaemia. They will be effectively locked down for 12 weeks.
The Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said the new measures would have a ‘big effect’ on the spread of the virus, which has now reached 1,543 confirmed cases and claimed 53 lives in the UK. ‘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.
The Prime Minister said the global economy was facing a ‘potentially severe blow’ and insisted the Government would help businesses and staff.
As he last night came under pressure to spell out that help:
- Plans to end free TV licences for the over-75s will be delayed until at least the summer;
- Stock markets had another turbulent day, with the FTSE 100 index down by 4%;
- Ministers scrambled to increase testing capacity after the World Health Organisation said ‘test, test, test’ was the key to fighting the outbreak;
- Londoners were warned the spread of the virus there is weeks ahead of the rest of the country;
- The Prime Minister held a conference call with 60 major manufacturers about trying to produce ventilators;
- UK Hospitality said the clampdown could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs;
- Schools are to stay open;
- The EU banned all ‘non-essential travel’ into the passport-free Schengen zone, although visitors from the UK will still be allowed;
- Mr Johnson refused to rule out even more radical restrictions on everyday life, such as travel lockdowns and curfews;
- Donald Trump said disruption caused by the outbreak could last until August;
- The Grand National was cancelled;
- The Archbishops of Canterbury and York appealed for the nation’s citizens to be Good Samaritans.
At the dramatic press conference in Downing Street, as the UK coronavirus death toll spiked to 55, the PM said: ‘If necessary, you should ask for help from others for your daily necessities. If that is not possible, you should do what you can to limit your social contact when you leave the house to get supplies.’
‘Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and stop all non-essential travel. We need people to start working from home where they possible can. You should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues.’
The PM warned that the coronavirus was now in a phase of rapid spread across the UK, and it was time to take radical action to stop the NHS being swamped
‘Les Miserables’ at the Sondheim Theatre in London has been cancelled until further notice Coronavirus outbreak
‘The Prince Of Egypt’ at the Dominion Theatre has also been cancelled until further notice Coronavirus outbreak
Mr Johnson was flanked by Chief medical officer Chris Whitty (left) and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance (right) at the press conference in Downing Street last night
A notice at the Duke of York theatre yesterday evening confirming that shows are ‘suspended with immediate effect’
‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ at the Apollo Theatre has been canceled until further notice Coronavirus outbreak
The breakneck developments came amid growing criticism of the UK government’s response, which has looked increasingly out of step with that around the globe.
NHS to axe non-emergency operations to help free up staff and beds
The NHS is calling off all non-emergency perorations to free up resources to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, Matt Hancock told MPs today.
As the UK death toll passed 50 the Health Secretary said all elective surgery that was not time sensitive would either be cancelled or postponed as the health service gears up for the worst of the pandemic.
He told a hushed Commons that ventilators were key to treating those suffering the worst effects of the disease and the Government has asked manufacturers to step up efforts to help in the production of kit needed.
He said: ‘The measures that I’ve just outlined are unprecedented in peacetime.
‘We will fight this virus with everything we’ve got.
‘We are in a war against an invisible killer and we’ve got to do everything we can to stop it.’
The World Health Organisation earlier condemned the ditching of testing for those with mild symptoms, saying it meant countries were trying to ‘fight a fire blindfolded’.
Mr Johnson defended the testing approach yesterday evening, and also rejected calls for an immediate school shutdown. ‘We think at the moment on balance it is much better if we can keep schools open for all sorts of reasons,’ he said.
‘But this is something that we need to keep under review.’
He also batted away questions over how the government would convince people to obey the lockdown, given there was no legal compulsion being employed.
Mr Johnson said the government had sweeping powers if they needed them, and the Health Secretary could even ‘ban handshakes’ if needed.
‘But most people would accept that that we are a mature, grown up, liberal democracy where people understand very clearly the advice that is being given to them,’ he said.
In a statement late on Monday, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle also urged MPs and peers over the age of 70, as well as those with underlying health conditions and those who might be pregnant, ‘to pay particular attention to the advice of Public Health England’.
An empty cinema theatre in Canary Wharf, London before the start of a screening. The Government’s advice for people to avoid pubs, clubs and theatres
This afternoon in Deansgate in Manchester. The usually bustling streets are virtually empty due to the Coronavirus outbreak
A person wearing a face mask on the platform of Canary Wharf DLR station, London on Monday evening. Mr Johnson’s advice means Brits can expect an extended period of deserted streets and trains
Under new guidance published on Monday, these groups are ‘strongly advised against’ social mixing in the community.
Sir Lindsay said there will be ‘no access to the public gallery’ in both Houses of Parliament from Tuesday in response to the coronavirus pandemic, adding that ‘all non-essential access’ will be stopped
FTSE recovers closes 4.7 per cent down after a morning in which £117billion was wiped off shares
The FTSE 100 closed down 5 per cent today as investors failed to be impressed by global central banks slashing interest rates amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The index of Britain’s leading companies recovered some of its early losses later on, but still fell 253 points or 4.71 per cent to close down at 5,113 this afternoon.
This marked a fall in value today of £63billion following one of the worst weeks in the history of the index.
Earlier, the FTSE had lost a whopping 427 points or 8.7 per cent to 4,921 in the first 40 minutes of trading this morning – losing £117billion of its value – as the outbreak continues to intensify.
The index dropped to its lowest level since October 2011, adding to last week’s 17 per cent fall. It had already lost more than £500billion in the three weeks before today.
Meanwhile trading in shares was suspended on the US markets after the S&P 500 fell more than 8 per cent on market open and the Dow Jones lost almost 10 per cent.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty, speaking alongside Mr Johnson and chief scientific officer Patrick Vallance in Downing Street, said the restrictions on families were crucial.
‘If one person in the household has symptoms the whole household stays at home,’ Prof Whitty said.
Prof Vallance said the action was being stepped up after the latest figures showed the UK was further along the outbreak than previously thought.
Previously the government believed Britain was four weeks behind Italy – which has been brought to its knees – but he said it looked like the UK was ‘more like three weeks’ behind.
Prof Whitty said the country had to be prepared for restrictions to be in place for ‘the long haul’.
He said: ‘People should be thinking of a minimum of weeks to months and, depending how it goes, it may be longer.
‘It’s really important people realise they are in for the long haul on this.
‘But this is really important, if we are to defend the ability of the NHS to treat people, if we are actually to minimise mortality, we have got to see this as a long game.’
Prof Whitty said the decision to include pregnant women in the group being shielded was a precaution.
‘We are very, very early in what we know on this,’ he said.
Although the limited evidence suggested there were no complications in pregnancy, for many infectious diseases ‘there is a small but appreciable additional risk’ and as this was a new virus there was no evidence for people in early stages of pregnancy.
‘Infections and pregnancy are not a good combination in general and that is why we have taken the very precautionary measure while we try and find out more.’
He also rejected criticism from the WHO over the Government’s testing regime.
There was ‘complete surveillance’ testing in intensive care, hospitals were also testing patients with pneumonia and GPs were testing in the community.
British doctors call on government to INCREASE testing
Doctors have urged the government to ratchet up testing of suspected coronavirus victims so health chiefs are aware of the size of the outbreak confronting them.
Although roughly 1,500 cases have been confirmed in the UK, it is feared as many as 10,000 are suffering the disease.
Many of these undiagnosed infected will have symptoms so mild they are unaware they have the virus.
Yet others will have come down with the tell-tale signs but have gone untested as Public Health England is only advising them to self-isolate at home and is mainly just screening the most vulnerable patients.
The strategy to only test a fraction of all suspected cases was blasted by the World Health Organisation today, which bluntly warned: ‘You cannot fight a fire blindfolded.’
And Campaign group Doctors for the NHS said much wider testing should be carried out for Covid-19.
Its chairman, retired eye consultant Dr Colin Hutchinson, said: ‘There is no mass testing for Covid-19.
‘How can you manage an emergency like the Covid-19 pandemic without access to clear, up-to-date information on the number of new cases within the population?
‘We do intend to continue to scale up testing,’ he said, adding efforts were already ‘substantial’ with more than 44,000 tests conducted.
At the moment tests were only useful for people who were currently sick, but it would be ‘transformational ‘ if there was a way to find out whether people had previously had it.
That would show what proportion of people can get the disease without any symptoms, he said, adding that Public Health England was ‘very rapidly’ developing such a test.
Fears over the impact of the coronavirus were laid bare on Sunday in a leaked Public Health England (PHE) briefing warning that a ‘worst case’ scenario could see an epidemic last until spring next year, and mean 7.9million needing hospital treatment.
Downing Street stressed the 7.9million figure was just the reasonable worst case scenario and ‘does not mean that is what we expect to happen’.
It came as France, Germany and Bulgaria yesterday blocked travel even with the free-moving Schengen zone as the EU proposed barring all overseas visitors from entering for 30 days to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Border guards were seen across the continent tonight locking off the crossings between Spain and France, Portugal and Spain, Switzerland and France, and in Germany’s northern coastal states police prepared to block tourism.
French president Emmanuel Macron tonight put his country into full lockdown because ‘we are at war with the coronavirus’ as French troops deployed to transport patients to a new field hospital.
Meanwhile Bulgaria banned entrants from 15 countries with large coronavirus outbreaks, including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Switzerland as of March 18, the health ministry said on Monday.
Germany today closed its borders with France, Austria and Switzerland, restricting travel to commercial only.
And Spain also announced it would close its borders at midnight, causing holiday chaos for thousands of Britons.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen unveiled an EU proposal to ban all non-essential travel by non-citizens into the 26-nation Schengen free travel area for 30 days.
Empty trains and roads as rail passengers ‘down by a fifth’
Train passenger numbers slumped by a fifth last week as coronavirus panic took hold, it was revealed today.
Commuter services and streets were unusually empty this morning as the public took matters into their own hands, despite the government’s limited advice.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said there had been an 18 per cent-20 per cent drop off in the volume of train passengers last week, as Britons reacted to the situation.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme services would be maintained, but added there is no point running ‘ghost trains’.
‘The railways have definitely seen a big drop off … last week by about 18-20 per cent in the number of passengers and we’re working with them closely,’ he said.
Transport for London said Tube passengers were down 19 per cent on the same period last year, while bus used had dipped 10 per cent.
In addition, 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.
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.
Ms von der Leyen told a press conference: ‘The UK citizens are European citizens so of course there are no restrictions for the UK citizens to travel to the continent.’
She added: ‘Here in Europe we are heavily affected by coronavirus and we know that everything that reduces social interaction also reduces the speed of the spread of the virus.
‘The less travel, the more we can contain the virus. Therefore, as I have just informed our G7 partners, I propose to the heads of state and governments, to introduce temporary restrictions on non-essential travel to the European Union.’
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Germans to cancel any holidays at home and abroad, while president Frank-Walter Steinmeier told people to ‘stay at home’.
The government has banned gatherings in churches, mosques and synagogues and ordered non-essential shops as well as playgrounds shut.
At a press conference in Berlin, Merkel said that under the new measures, ‘there shouldn’t be any holiday trips undertaken inside the country or outside it’.
‘There have never been measures like this in our country before. They are far-reaching, but at the moment they are necessary.’
Empty benches, chairs and tables are seen in front of a restaurant in Berlin on Monday. Germany’s federal and state governments have agreed sweeping rules shutting everything from non-essential shops to bars, clubs, theatres, museums, brothels and churches
The Brandenburg Gate and Pariser Platz, usually filled with tourists, stand almost empty on Monday
Meanwhile, Steinmeier called on Germans to ‘work together to ensure the virus spreads as slowly as possible’.
‘So wherever possible: stay at home! Avoid close contact… and have understanding for all restrictive measures,’ he said in a statement.
How cases of the killer coronavirus are spiralling in London and New York
Cases of the killer coronavirus which has sent the world into lockdown are spiralling in London and New York, figures show.
Statistics compiled by UK health authorities show 480 patients have been infected in England’s capital, home to 8.8million people.
In comparison, 463 cases have been confirmed in New York City, the sprawling city which has 8.6million residents.
Cases in London have jumped almost 20 per cent in the last 24 hours, as MailOnline can reveal one case is diagnosed for every 18,333 Londoners.
The rate in New York, which has recorded a massive 40 per cent rise since yesterday, is one case for every 18,575 residents.
The analysis comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday warned the outbreak in city was weeks ahead of the rest of the country.
Kensington & Chelsea is the worst hit borough with 43 confirmed cases, followed by Westminster (37), Southwark (33) and Lambeth (26).
All 32 boroughs of the city have recorded cases, with Richmond, Kingston and Redbridge all confirming the fewest so far, with two each.
The PM warned that the coronavirus was now in a phase of rapid spread and it was time to take radical action to stop the NHS being swamped.
In a special plea to the capital, Mr Johnson said people there were at the highest risk and they should ‘pay special attention’ to the ‘draconian’ measures and be careful of getting close to other people.
In a regional breakdown, London had the most cases (487), followed by the South East (173) and the Midlands (129), according to the most recent data.
After those came North East and Yorkshire (86), the North West (83), East of England (81) and the South West (77). The locations of the remaining 87 cases were unclear.
The sweeping restrictions aimed at ‘limiting social contact in public places’ will leave most sites from museums to swimming pools to gyms shuttered.
But supermarkets, banks and post offices will stay open, as will pharmacies and petrol stations.
Hairdressers, construction supply stores and laundromats will also keep operating, said the government, saying that the move was to ensure that ‘service providers and craftsmen can continue to carry out their trade’.
Restaurants and cafes can stay open, but only until 6pm daily.
Hotels will only be used for ‘essential and explicitly not for tourist purposes’, the government added.
The exodus of Brits from Spain also gathered speed today as the military was sent to ‘packed’ airports to keep tourists a safe distance away from each other as they scrambled to return home.
Members of Spain’s military emergency unit (UME) have been deployed at transport hubs such as South Tenerife and Malaga Airport.
Officers in Benidorm even used beach chairs to spell out ‘STAY AT HOME’ along the shores of the seaside resort yesterday in a bid to keep tourists away from the holiday hot spot amid the coronavirus pandemic.
It came as the country saw another 1,000 infections in the last 24 hours, bringing the Spanish total to 8,744. However, the increase was only half the rate of the weekend numbers, and followed a series of lockdowns brought in across the country.
The government is already planning to extend Spain’s two-week lockdown and close its borders to stop the spread of coronavirus.
In France, President Macron said that people would have to stay at home unless shopping for food or going to a pharmacy, heading for absolutely essential work, or exercising alone.
French troops are also being deployed to transport patients to a field hospital which is being set up in the east of the country and today, in scenes reminiscent of China’s lockdown, army trucks rolled through the streets of Paris.
Macron also announced that the second round of local elections due to be held on March 22 would be postponed and hotels and other private businesses will meanwhile be requisitioned by the state in order to help treat sufferers of the lethal virus.
The country’s Interior Minister, Christophe Castaner, later clarified that anyone leaving the house in France ‘for any reason’ will have to download a form or risk a minimum £34.60 fine enforced by 100,000 police and gendarmes.
He said ‘essential professions’ who can still enjoy easy travel include medical and postal workers, but few others.
They will instead have to write ‘going out to buy a baguette’ or ‘walking the dog’ on an individual printed form every single time.
‘We can always practice a physical activity or take our dog out, but everyone should do it sparingly, without meeting in a group,’ Mr Castaner said.
‘We can get some fresh air yes, but certainly not play a football match. A control system will be set up by 100,000 police and gendarmes,’ he added.
In a special plea to the capital, Mr Johnson said people there were at the highest risk. ‘It looks as though London is now a few weeks ahead… it’s important that Londoners now pay special attention to what we are saying about avoiding all non-essential contact.’
Today MPs on the Commons health committee, led by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, will quiz NHS chief executive Simon Stevens on how he plans to free up enough beds to cope with the coronavirus crisis.
Sir Patrick said the UK now appears to be just three weeks behind the situation in Italy, where the death toll yesterday passed 2,000.
Ministers were warned that evidence from Italy suggested that pressure on intensive care beds was double the level expected. Had the Government continued to follow its relatively limited ‘mitigation’ strategy, around 11,000 patients would need intensive care at any one time, more than double the NHS’s capacity.
It could last 18 months: Top scientists warn Prime Minister that vaccine remains key to a return to normal life… but it might not be available for more than a year
by Claire Ellicott and Eleanor Hayward for the Daily Mail
The coronavirus crisis is a ‘marathon not a sprint’ and could last for months, the Chief Medical Officer warned.
It came as scientists advising the Government said more than a quarter of a million people would have died of the disease in Britain without the stricter measures announced yesterday.
Boris Johnson raised the restrictions in response to the experts’ warning that twice as many people will require intensive care as previous planning estimates had assumed.
The new measures – including bans on social gatherings – could need to stay in place for around 18 months until a vaccine becomes available, the Imperial College London researchers said.
If no action at all had been taken against the coronavirus, it would have claimed 510,000 lives.
Chief medical officer for England Chris Witty says the race to beating to coronavirus pandem is a ‘marathon not a sprint’. Professor Witty is pictured arriving at the Cabinet Office in Whitehall on Monday
Had the Government stuck with their strategy of controlling the spread with limited measures such as home isolation for those with symptoms this number would be roughly halved to 260,000. If the strictest possible measures are introduced – including school closures and mandatory home quarantine – the number of deaths over a two-year period will fall below 20,000, the scientists said.
Professor Neil Ferguson, lead author of the study, said: ‘Instead of talking about hundreds of thousands of deaths, there still will be a significant health impact that we’ll be talking about. Hopefully, tens of thousands… maybe, depending on how early we are, just a few thousands.’
The scientists emphasised there will be no end in sight to the measures until a vaccine is created.
Professor Azra Ghani, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology from the virus modelling team, warned: ‘We have explored a scenario where these measures stayed in place for five months, which is what is taking us through to the summer.
‘We haven’t found any way, at least in our understanding of this so far, that we can ever release these methods until some other intervention can be put in place.
‘So really, we are essentially waiting for a vaccine. A vaccine is not five months away. We know it’s at least 12 to 18 months away. So we will have difficult choices to make.’
Professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London, was the author of a study that suggested measures such as a ban on social gatherings could last for up to 18 months
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, said that social lockdown in Britain over coronavirus could last for a prolonged period.
He said: ‘This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint… People should be thinking of minimum of weeks to months and depending how it goes it could be longer. It is really important people realise they are in for the long haul on this.’
The Government brought forward the much stricter restrictions after it was stung by criticism that it was not moving as fast as other countries.
Ministers have been shocked by figures that suggest the UK will suffer more deaths than the current modelling had predicted.
Initially, Mr Johnson resisted pressure to bring in ‘social distancing’ for fear that people would grow fatigued and abandon the practice just as the virus began to peak.
Yesterday’s measures went far further than previous advice, though they remain voluntary, so pubs are not required to shut, and people are not being ordered to stay at home.
The Prime Minister said it was unlikely that curfews and criminal sanctions could be introduced in the near future to enforce this – but added that all measures are under review. He said the UK already has extensive powers to deal with potential breaches of orders. He told the press conference: ‘Most people would accept we are already a mature and liberal democracy where people understand very clearly the advice that is being given to them.’
The Imperial College London study revealed that had Ministers continued to follow their relatively limited ‘mitigation’ strategy, around 11,000 patients would have needed intensive care at any one time, more than double NHS capacity.
The stricter measures could keep the number of patients in intensive care below 5,000, they said.
The report said vaccination was the ‘only exit strategy’ from the draconian measures announced yesterday. Modelling by the scientists says that school and university closures will be necessary to keep deaths to a minimum.
‘A minimum policy for effective suppression is therefore population-wide social distancing, combined with home isolation of cases and school and university closure,’ it says. ‘To avoid a rebound in transmission, these policies will need to be maintained until large stocks of vaccine are available – which could be 18 months or more.’
The research also revealed that around a quarter of over-70s who contract the virus end up in hospital. Four in ten of these need critical care.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS?
What is the coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.
The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.
Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.
The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.
Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals.
‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses).
‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’
The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.
By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.
The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000.
Where does the virus come from?
According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.
The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.
Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat.
A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.
However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.
Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.
‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’
So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it?
Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.
It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.
Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.
Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.
‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’
If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die.
‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.
‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’
How does the virus spread?
The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.
It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.
Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.
What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?
Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.
If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.
In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.
Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why.
What have genetic tests revealed about the virus?
Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world.
This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.
Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.
However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.
This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.
More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.
How dangerous is the virus?
The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.
Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.
However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.
Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.
Can the virus be cured?
The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.
Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.
No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.
The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.
Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.
People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.
And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).
However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.
Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?
The outbreak was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.
Previously, the UN agency said most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.