UK to speed up isolation measures as cases surge faster than expected

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan is aimed at making sure not to overwhelm Britain’s health system. (AP pic)

LONDON: Britain’s government is expected to accelerate efforts to tackle the coronavirus after confirmed cases in the country surged much faster than expected, The Times of London reported.

Deaths in the country doubled to 21 on Saturday, and the number of cases jumped by 342, an almost 43% increase.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce measures to encourage the elderly and those most at risk to stay at home, as well as for entire families to self-isolate if any member shows any symptoms, the Times said.

The government initially expected to take these steps in two weeks time but is hastening its plans after the jump in cases, the newspaper reported, without saying where it got the information.

Johnson is expected to chair a meeting on Sunday, after which the measures could be announced, the paper said.

Army chiefs may order forces to build field hospitals and deploy military police on the country’s streets in the event of any civil unrest, according to the report.

Europe has now become the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, officials at the World Health Organization said on Friday, and countries have taken unprecedented measures.

France said all non-essential shops would be closed and Spain declared a state of emergency on Saturday while Italy remains in lockdown.

Britain has attempted to chart its own path through the crisis, offering a less aggressive approach that relies on taking more serious steps at the right time.

The country’s newest measures could see people older than 70 told to stay in isolation for as long as four months, ITV said, citing an unidentified senior person in government. The step is an attempt to reduce the load on a health system already under strain.

The plan is aimed at making sure the NHS is not overwhelmed, “to save lives and to prevent hideous choices having to be made”, an unidentified person told ITV.

Johnson’s administration is also concerned about the demand for medical equipment including respirators for those who develop more serious symptoms from the virus.

Writing in the Telegraph, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government is issuing a “call to arms”, asking manufacturers to “transform their production lines to make ventilators”.

Hancock confirmed that the government would put forward a bill next week to give it emergency powers it says it needs to tackle an outbreak. Ministers plan to fast track the legislation through Parliament so it will be in place before the number of cases peaks.

“Everyone will be asked to make sacrifices, to protect themselves and others, especially those most vulnerable to this disease,” Hancock said.

“With our clear action plan, listening to the advice of the best science, and taking the action we all must, I am sure we will rise to this challenge.”