UK virus ‘accelerating’ as 1.5 million most at risk told to stay indoors

Govt advises those with underlying health conditions to do all they can to shield themselves from the virus. (AP pic)

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Sunday the coronavirus outbreak was “accelerating” as the UK government told 1.5 million people most at risk to stay at home for 12 weeks.

Johnson’s warning came amid a growing debate about whether people are taking warnings to socially distance from each other seriously enough and whether or not government should enforce stronger restrictions.

“The numbers are very stark, and they are accelerating,” said Johnson.

“We are only a matter of weeks — two or three — behind Italy. The Italians have a superb health care system. And yet their doctors and nurses have been completely overwhelmed by the demand.”

The PM’s plea came after latest health department figures showed that 233 people have died from Covid-19 in the UK, with the number of those testing positive for the virus standing at 5,018.

The government has outlined emergency legislation to give police, public health and immigration officers extra powers to contain the outbreak.

On Friday, Downing Street announced stronger measures to try and combat the spread, including the closing of bars, pubs and restaurants.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky TV on Sunday morning that if the public did not follow their advice they will “have to consider other options”.

Asked if the government was acting too late to take protective measures, as Britain appears to be on a similar path to Italy in terms of numbers affected, if several weeks behind, Jenrick said he did not think that was the case.

Most at risk

As part of the latest measures to try and protect those most at risk, the government advised those with underlying health conditions such as bone or blood cancers, cystic fibrosis, or who have had an organ transplant to do all they can to shield themselves from the virus, including confining themselves at home for a long period.

“People should stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives,” Jenrick said in a statement.

He added that the government was asking “extremely vulnerable individuals” to take “extra steps to shield themselves”.

A statement from the communities department outlined the time frame the government wanted the most vulnerable to follow.

“People identified as belonging to one or more of the at-risk groups will be contacted by their GP practice, specialist or both strongly advising them to stay at home for a period of at least 12 weeks.”

A dedicated phone line and arrangements to deliver groceries or medicines will also be announced.

Paul Johnstone, director of Public Health England, said those contacted should “not go out for shopping, for leisure or for travel”.