Whole families will need to go into quarantine in the coming weeks if one of them has a temperature or a cough, Boris Johnson said yesterday.
Although the Prime Minister stressed this was not yet the official advice, he warned households that it would be ‘coming down the track’.
But Mr Johnson was clear that anyone who developed a cough or a high temperature should stay at home for a week.
They must stand at least 6ft 6ins from others in their house and sleep in a different ventilated room. They cannot go out for a walk, they should eat their meals alone in their bedroom and if they go in the garden, they should be alone.
Over the next few weeks as the outbreak nears its peak, whole families will be told to stay at home for a week even if just one of them develops a cough or fever. And in another major shift in policy, the public have been urged not to call the NHS 111 helpline if they have symptoms but to instead log on to its coronavirus website.
They were also warned that they would not necessarily be offered a home test as officials want to focus resources on detecting hospital cases.
At a press conference in Downing Street, the PM said he was considering the banning of mass gatherings but not because he believed they risked spreading disease. Mr Johnson has been told that patients are unlikely to spread the virus at football matches for example – but have a much higher chance of passing it on to relatives at home.
The Prime Minister may choose to cancel major events because they have a huge impact on public services – notably ambulances and the police – who may be under-staffed.
Hundreds of thousands of people are attending Cheltenham Festival this week despite many warning against attending large public events due to the potential spread of the virus
Yesterday the number of confirmed cases in the UK rose to 590 – a leap of 134 in a day while the death toll increased to ten.
These are likely to be the tip of the iceberg however and the Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance yesterday suggested that between 5,000 and 10,000 were infected. The latest confirmed deaths involved an 89-year-old who was being treated at Imperial College Hospitals in London and a women in her sixties who was at the Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals in Essex.
Outlining the family quarantines, Mr Johnson said: ‘At some point in the next few weeks we are likely to go further and if someone in a household has those symptoms then we will be asking everyone in that household to stay at home. I want to signal now that this is coming down the track.’
Relatives banned from visiting care homes
Hundreds of care homes have banned families from all but emergency visits to their frail relatives yesterday.
Major chains halted routine visits while others asked families to consider staying away to protect vulnerable residents.
It came as the first home to declare an infection shut its doors to visitors yesterday. The 91-bed Oakridge House in Basingstoke, Hampshire did not say whether the individual was a resident or a staff member.
HC-One, Britain’s largest care home group, said it was ‘restricting non-essential visitors’ from its 340 homes. Four Seasons Health Care said there was no visitor ban across its 200 homes but asked relatives to check with managers before turning up.
Barchester Care Homes, which runs more than 200 homes in the UK with over 11,000 people, said families must clear ‘non-routine visits’ with managers.
Bupa, which operates more than 120 homes, is asking relatives to think carefully before visiting. Colten Care, which has 21 nursing homes, has a similar policy. Runwood Homes, which has more than 70 care homes, has banned all visitors.
The sector, which houses 430,000 residents, has complained that the Government hasn’t provided enough advice on visits. Martin Green, of Care England, said: ‘We need very clear guidance from the Department of Health and NHS. We have been asking for this repeatedly.’
By Steve Doughty and Susie Coen
But Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty emphasised that anyone who had a new continuous cough or a temperature above 37.8C now should stay at home for one week. A normal bodily temperature is between 36.1C and 37.1C, so this is only just above that healthy threshold. Professor Whitty said: ‘Anyone who has a cough or a temperature should stay at home for seven days.
‘Some people with really quite mild symptoms can spread this virus to a lot of people. People with minor symptoms should stay at home for seven days. It is important that people with minor symptoms do not call 111. However if their symptoms start to deteriorate, we would want them to call 111. We no longer need to identify every case… we will pivot testing capacity to only people in hospitals with symptoms. People who are remaining at home do not need testing.’
Professor Whitty also explained that testing would be offered to patients even if they had not travelled to high-risk countries including Italy, although they would be prioritising those in hospital. He acknowledged that self-isolating would be ‘something which will interfere with their lives and interfere with their work and their social life in quite significant ways’. But he reiterated that it would help ‘protect older and more vulnerable people’ and help delay the peak of the epidemic.
Sir Patrick later predicted that everyone staying at home for a week if they had a cough or a fever would reduce the peak by between 20 to 25 per cent.
Whole families quarantining if just one of them fell sick would bring this down by another 25 per cent, he said.
Despite these measures, several academics have questioned why the Government is not doing more and following other countries by closing schools and banning major events.
Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet medical journal, said that ministers were making a ‘major mistake’. He said: ‘The UK’s response needs to learn lessons from what happened in China and what is now happening in Italy.’
Meanwhile, Dr Simon Ashworth, clinical director for critical care at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, stressed: ‘They need to take the advice of senior hospital and medical staff and listen to experts. This means closing schools and universities, stopping mass events, cancelling elective surgery to allow all hospitals to upscale preparations and release staff to train and organise our precautions.’
Closing schools would do ‘more harm than good’ says Boris Johnson despite pressure to act after Ireland, Italy, France and other countries announces blanket closures
Boris Johnson insisted yesterday that closing schools would do nothing to prevent the escalating coronavirus crisis.
The Prime Minister said sending England’s nine million pupils home could do ‘more harm than good’ – but ordered schools to cancel all trips abroad.
His refusal to endorse nationwide closures came as countries across Europe introduced such measures in an unprecedented move to tackle the pandemic.
Boris Johnson insisted yesterday that closing schools would do nothing to prevent the escalating coronavirus crisis
The UK faced pressure to act after the Republic of Ireland announced that its schools, colleges and childcare facilities would be closed for the rest of the month from today.
Despite facing five times fewer cases then Britain, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the country needed to undertake ‘big changes in the way we live our lives’ to defeat the virus.
Blanket school closures have been rolled out in Italy, Europe’s worst-hit country, as well as in France, Poland, Denmark and Slovakia. Partial closures have been announced in Spain and Norway.
Leo Varadkar said Ireland needed to undertake ‘big changes in the way we live our lives’ to defeat the virus
Universities call off lectures
Universities yesterday announced plans to stop face-to-face lectures and seminars and move teaching online in response to the coronavirus crisis.
Despite government advice that they should remain open unless instructed otherwise, four institutions – including Durham University and the London School of Economics – announced that they were cutting back contact with students.
Meanwhile, medical students at the University of Cambridge will now not carry out final clinical examinations as they would have come into contact with hundreds of patients and NHS staff.
The moves came as the University of Oxford said a further three students had tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total there to five, along with one at Bristol University who had returned to the city from abroad.
The 19,000 students at Durham were yesterday told that ‘classroom teaching of all forms will cease’ for the final week of term starting on Monday, with ‘alternative modes of teaching’ adopted instead.
It said it was ‘working hard across the university community to prepare for the possible spread of the virus’, it said, adding that students could return home today if they wished.
At LSE all 11,000 students will see teaching along with taught exams and assessments moved online for the rest of the academic year from March 23. It described the move as ‘a precaution and to provide clarity and reassurance’, stressing that the campus and its facilities would remain open.
An official petition on the UK’s Parliamentary website calling for the Government to consider closing schools had gained almost 375,000 signatures last night.
But Mr Johnson disputed the need for such a measure yesterday. He said: ‘We are not, I repeat not, closing schools now. The scientific advice is that this could do more harm than good at this time.’ Mr Johnson said the situation would remain under review.
His refusal to endorse school closures was echoed by the experts leading the Government’s response. Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said the scientific evidence justifying closures was ‘pretty weak’, adding: ‘Closing schools has big knock-on effects across society and has to be justified for very strong reasons.’
Professor Whitty said a ‘silver lining’ of the pandemic is that fewer children get infected with coronavirus than adults and they are much less likely to become seriously ill and die. The UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, also said that school closures would have a minimal effect unless closed for between 13 to 16 weeks.
He added that children kept home could end up being cared for by elderly grandparents – who are at most at risk.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon yesterday suggested that schools in Scotland could end up being closed until the summer and that ‘complex judgements’ needed to taken before finalising the move.
The Government’s decision not to endorse closures came after it emerged that schools across the UK are considering four-week Easter holidays.
But the Department for Education yesterday distanced itself from that idea.
By Mario Ledwith and Josh White
Surgery for tens of thousands of patients could be delayed as the NHS prepares to make way for coronavirus patients
The health service is preparing to cancel tens of thousands of operations to make way for a surge in coronavirus patients.
Hospitals have been told they may need to postpone all non-urgent surgery for months including hip, knee, hernia and cataract procedures.
Cancer treatment and other life-saving operations would still go ahead but many other patients would be forced to endure lengthy delays.
The health service is preparing to cancel tens of thousands of operations to make way for a surge in coronavirus patients
The move would be extraordinary and the NHS has only ordered a mass cancellation of surgery once in recent times, during severe winter pressures in January 2018.
A decision is expected imminently and it reveals how the health service is putting itself on a war footing ahead of an exceptional level of pressure over the next few weeks.
In a separate development, the Chief Medical Officer wrote to doctors telling them they may need to work outside their normal area of expertise.
Predicting an ‘an established significant epidemic’, Professor Chris Whitty said medical professionals would need to be ‘flexible in what they do.’ He said: ‘It may entail working in unfamiliar circumstances or surroundings or working in clinical areas outside of their usual practice.’
Examples could involve surgeons or specialists whose normal roles are scaled back being transferred to general wards, medical assessment units or intensive care.
The Department of Health stressed no-one would be forced to work outside their normal area expertise if they were unhappy.
Professor Chris Whitty wrote to doctors telling them they may need to work outside their normal area of expertise
A decision on the cancellation of operations is expected imminently and thousands of patients awaiting non-urgent surgery or outpatient appointments would be affected.
The Health Service Journal –which uncovered details of the measures – said the suspension could last for several months while the outbreak reaches its peak.
NHS England would not put a figure on the numbers of patients who might be caught up but in January 2018, experts suggested 50,000 operations would be cancelled a month. The cancellations would come at a time when waiting lists are already at their highest in 13 years.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, said cancelling surgery to enable theatres to be turned into wards. He told the BBC’s Newsnight: ‘If you stopped doing elective surgery, you could convert theatres, you could convert resuscitation rooms, recovery areas into places where you could provide intensive care.’
Professor Derek Alderson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England said the college was ‘working closely with NHS England to identify capacity – both space in hospitals and staff capacity. Thousands of patients are waiting for essential operations, and it is important for their health and wellbeing that we continue to try to reduce the backlog of planned operations.’
Some trusts have already decided unilaterally that they will postpone certain procedures.
By Sophie Borland, health editor
MPs could get an early Easter as at least ten go into self-isolation after health minister Nadine Dorries tested positive for the virus
The Houses of Parliament could shut down for Easter a week early to combat the spread of coronavirus.
At least ten MPs last night were believed to be self-isolating over fears they have the virus after health minister Nadine Dorries tested positive.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg yesterday insisted it is of ‘fundamental importance that we keep’ Parliament open.
At least ten MPs last night were believed to be self-isolating over fears they have the virus after health minister Nadine Dorries (pictured) tested positive
But the Daily Mail understands parliamentary officials are preparing to bring forward the Easter recess.
MPs are due to leave Westminster on March 31, but contingency plans have been drawn up that would see them go a week earlier.
Under one proposal, Parliament would stop sitting as soon as emergency legislation to deal with the virus has been passed. Visitors could be prevented from entering Parliament from as soon as this weekend.
Commons clerks have been told they will start working on rotation – with three weeks on and three weeks off – in a bid to keep Parliament operational following the Easter break.
Last night it emerged that a Cabinet minister who is self-isolating attended an emergency Cobra meeting with the Prime Minister.
And Andrew Bridgen yesterday became the latest MP to confirm they are self-isolating.
The Conservative member for North West Leicestershire made the decision after having lunch with Miss Dorries in the House of Commons tea room last week.The backbencher is now awaiting a test for coronavirus. He said: ‘I have a cough and a cold but I am working via Skype and the telephone.’
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg yesterday insisted it is of ‘fundamental importance that we keep’ Parliament open
Other MPs in self-isolation include health minister Edward Argar and shadow minister Rachael Maskell.
Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs in the Commons yesterday that Parliament will remain open and must ‘go ahead at the same pace as the rest of the country’ when it comes to responding to the outbreak.
He indicated that emergency legislation could be brought forward on Monday 23 March, subject to talks between Labour and the Tories.
Mr Rees-Mogg said: ‘It is of fundamental importance that we keep this place open.
‘But it is also important that we are treated and we treat ourselves in the same way as the rest of the country, and that we go ahead at the same pace as the rest of the country.
‘There should not be a difference in how Parliament is behaving from the advice that is being given to our constituents and I think that is important – we shouldn’t try and seek to be a special case for ourselves.’
Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin urged the Government and parliamentary authorities to ‘keep the show on the road’ by keeping Parliament open.
He said: ‘Doesn’t that set the best possible example to the rest of the country that we should keep things going and remain calm?’
By John Stevens and Claire Ellicott