Brits with a cough or temperature have been told to self isolate for a week as the government steps up its response to the coronavirus.
Anyone who has even mild symptoms must immediately self-isolate for a week, starting tonight, Boris Johnson has announced.
It is understood the guidance applies to anyone who has a persistent cough or a temperature. Those self-isolating with mild symptoms are not advised to call 111.
The Prime Minister said at a press conference: “I must level with you and level with the British public. Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”
He described it as the "worst public health crisis for a generation".
Schools will be advised to cancel all foreign trips, and the elderly or anyone with underlying health conditions are advised to avoid cruise ships.
It is understood modelling used by the government shows there could already be between 5,000 and 10,000 cases in the UK community, despite fewer than 600 having been confirmed at this point.
Today's advice is a major ramping up of current advice, which advises people only to self-isolate if they have been in contact with an infected person or hotspot area or are told to by NHS 111.
It officially abandons Britain's primary focus on people who have imported the COVID-19 virus from overseas.
Family isolations are also set to begin within the next few weeks.
Mr Johnson said it was important for the UK to focus on delaying the peak of the virus.
He said that there was no plan to close schools as it could do "more harm than good at this time".
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said that, while children catch the disease, they seem to get a milder form of it and closing schools would have a much bigger effect.
Speaking alongside the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser, the PM warned: "At some point at the next two weeks we are likely to go further."
He admitted that the measures would cause disruption.
Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance said: “Currently we’re on a trajectory that looks as though it’s four weeks or so behind Italy, and some other countries in Europe.”
He added: “There are currently 590 cases that have been identified in the UK and there are more than 20 patients on intensive care units.
“If you calculate what that really means, in terms of the total number, it’s much more likely that we’ve got somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people infected at the moment.
“The same sorts of ratios will be true in other countries depending how much testing they’ve done.”
Major events are not yet being banned in England because scientific advice is it “will have little effect on the spread”, Boris Johnson said.
But he said that will be kept under review, because “there is also the issue of the burden such events can place on public services” – the reason they’re being cancelled in Scotland.
He spoke “directly” to older people for whom the disease is “particularly dangerous” – saying the government will “do all we can to help you and your family during this period”.
Mr Johnson said: "The government will do all we can to help you and your family."
He added: “Even if things seem tough now, this country will get through this epidemic just as it has got through many tougher experiences before – if we look out for each other and commit wholeheartedly to a full national effort.”
Today’s advice is that if you have symptoms, you should isolate for seven days.
From today, Boris Johnson said, “if you have coronavirus symptoms, however mild – either a new continuous cough or a high temperature – then you must stay at home for seven days to protect others.”
Soon what will change is to advising you and your whole household to isolate for 14 days.
Government officials hope it will push down the peak of the virus by 20%.
The government is also in the planning stage of considering cancelling non urgent surgery in the NHS to free up space if needed.
Professor Chris Whitty: "The delay has already begun because of the work of our colleagues and the public spiritedness of the peeople who came forward for testing."
He advised that this would be a "long haul".
"We cannot emphasise too much the point about washing hands – that is actually a very powerful public health intervention."
But he added that from today he wanted those with a new and persistent cough or a temperature – categorised as above 37.5C.
"It helps to protect older or more vulnerable people who they might come directly or indirectly into contact with."
Explaining the advice to self-isolate for seven days if people have a cough or temperature, Prof Whitty acknowledged it was "something which will interfere with their lives and interfere with their work and their social life in quite significant ways".
But he said "it helps to protect older and more vulnerable people" they might come into contact with and would also reduce, and possibly delay, the peak of the epidemic, making it easier for the NHS to cope.
Professor Whitty said the virus was its most contagious when symptoms first appear so that by seven days the great majority of people are not infectious.
"The evidence would appear to be that some people with even quite mild symptoms can spread this virus to a lot of people."
"It is important that people with very minor people do not call 111." But he said if people's symptom's deteriorate then they should use the helpline.
He said it was no longer necessary to identify every case.
Prof Whitty said that testing would now focus on those in hospital rather than those recovering at home.
He spoke of the need of isolating older and more vulnerable people – but that would not happen yet because it could have other negative consequences like increasing loneliness.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the change following a COBRA meeting chaired by Boris Johnson – and revealed mass gatherings will be cancelled in Scotland from next week.
Moving into the 'delay' phase means the UK is now on its second of four phases to deal with the virus. It means officials may soon give up on tracing each patient's contact and instead focus on "social distancing".
The objective is to slow down the spread of coronavirus and reduce numbers infected at the peak after the number of UK cases soared by 134 to 590 today.
Ten people in the UK have now died from COVID-19. The latest deaths were of an 89-year-old at Charing Cross Hospital in London and a woman in her sixties at Queen's Hospital in Romford. Both had underlying health conditions.
Ms Sturgeon said another key focus will be to protect groups in society who are more at risk.
Speaking moments before a Downing Street briefing from the Prime Minister and Chief Medical Officer, Scotland's First Minister said: "The objective is to seek to slow down the spread of the virus, to reduce the numbers… infected at any one time."
"That is clearly important in trying to alleviate the pressure that is placed at any one time on our NHS."
She added it would protect groups that are more at risk of serious complications. "The vast majority of people who get this infection will suffer mild symptoms," she added.
Ms Sturgeon said mass gatherings in Scotland will be cancelled from next week.
She said: “We have looked carefully at the situation and come to the decision today in the Scottish government that we will, from the start of next week, advise the cancellation of mass gatherings of over 500 people that have the potential to have an impact on our frontline emergency services.
“I should stay at this stage I am articulating a Scottish government position, not a UK-wide position.”
She stressed the move is not because of the risk of the virus spreading – which is not “significantly” higher in large events.
Instead she said she took the decision because of the “considerable” pressure on public services – and because it was important for public messaging about staying at home to be “consistent”.
The shift in British policy came as Donald Trump dramatically escalated the US response to the coronavirus pandemic despite having previously played down the outbreak.
The US President slapped a 30-day travel ban on continental Europe – excluding the UK and Ireland – even though there is effectively free movement across the continent.
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 spread of the virus and saying US clusters were "seeded" by European travellers.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has also today announced the country would go into lockdown as of 6pm – with schools, universities and public offices closing.
Dr Varadkar: "We have not witnessed a pandemic of this nature in living memory and this is uncharted territory for us."
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.
The Cobra meeting comes after ten people with Covid-19 were confirmed to have died in the UK, while the total number of positive cases rose to 460.
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