The BBC medical correspondent took questions on BBC Radio 5 Live from concerned Britons who wonder whether the number of tests issued in the UK have been enough to get a proper sense of the extent of the coronavirus pandemic. Mr Walsh said: “There will be hundreds, probably thousands, potentially tens of thousands of people with the virus.
“And in any health care system – South Korea has done extraordinary efforts and Singapore in terms of upping the number of testings compared to the UK.
“But that is why we’re going to get this advice very soon about people with respiratory symptoms, a cold or a fever, or flu-like symptoms to stay at home for a week.
“And yesterday it was announced that the number of tests being done will be up from 1500 to 10,000 a day.
“So we’ll get a clearer picture as to how much the virus is spreading within the UK within a matter of days.”
Boris Johnson is expected to accept that the coronavirus outbreak can no longer be contained in the UK, signalling the start of the next phase in the battle against COVID-19.
The Prime Minister will chair a Cobra meeting at lunchtime on Thursday where ministers are expected to agree to move into the “delay” stage of the process.
Moving to delay would mean social distancing measures could be brought in, such as restricting public gatherings and issuing more widespread advice to stay at home.
The expected shift in UK policy came as Donald Trump dramatically escalated the US response to the coronavirus pandemic, slapping a travel ban on continental Europe.
The suspension of travel between the United States and Europe – excluding the UK and Ireland – will last for 30 days starting on Friday.
Mr Trump made the announcement in an Oval Office address to the nation, blaming the European Union for not acting quickly enough to address the outbreak of the virus and saying US clusters were “seeded” by European travellers.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak played down the prospect of the UK imposing similar travel restrictions, but acknowledged the US decision could have a knock-on effect on the British economy.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “With regard to flight bans, we are always guided by the science as we make our decisions here, and the advice we are getting is that there isn’t the evidence that interventions like closing borders or travel bans are going to have a material effect on the spread of the infection.”
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Thursday’s Cobra meeting comes after eight people with Covid-19 were confirmed to have died in the UK, while the total number of positive cases rose to 460.
A Cabinet minister, who has not been named, was self-isolating while awaiting a test result after coming into contact with health minister Nadine Dorries.
Ms Dorries is self-isolating at home after being diagnosed with the illness.
A source confirmed fellow health minister Edward Argar is also self-isolating at home “as a precaution” after having lunch with Ms Dorries on Thursday, the day she started to feel unwell.
Mr Sunak told the BBC: “This has obviously now impacted Parliament and government, and we are dealing with it, like all other businesses are going to have to start dealing with it.”
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