Boris Johnson calls for “national effort” to defeat the coronavirus
Boris Johnson has called for a “national effort” to defeat the coronavirus - as he warned the country that the crisis will get worse in the weeks ahead.
The Prime Minister spoke out as it emerged that anyone with even mild respiratory illness symptoms - such as a cough or runny nose - will soon be told to stay at home for a week.
He also defended the UK Government’s response to the outbreak amid calls for him to mirror the tougher approach being taken in other countries.
Johnson confirmed that the response to the deadly disease will soon enter the “delay” phase, when experts hope the worst of it can be put off until the summer months to ease the pressure on the NHS.
On Monday morning the PM chaired a meeting of the UK Government’s emergency Cobra committee, which agreed to maintain the current response to the crisis. A further meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.
Addressing a press conference in Downing Street, the PM said: “This is clearly going to be a big national challenge and it’s going to grow and become an even bigger national challenge.
“But it is also obvious to me that we now have to defeat it, and with a great national effort we will be able to pull together and do just that.”
Other European countries have responded to the outbreak with a series of draconian measures, including the cancellation of major sporting events and the quarantining of 16 million people in Italy.
But, flanked by chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, Johnson said it was important that the UK did not follow suit too soon.
He said: “We mustn’t do things that have no or limited medical benefit, nor things which could turn out to be counterproductive.”
Professor Whitty added: “Once we've started these things, we will have to continue them through the peak and that is for a period of time and there is a risk if we go too early people will understandably get fatigued and it'll be difficult to sustain this over time. So getting the timing right is absolutely critical to making this work."
Meanwhile, the chief medical officer also revealed that the response to the crisis will shift in the next ten to 14 days, with anyone complaining of a high temperature, runny nose or cough urged to stay at home for seven days to halt the spread of the disease.
“That is the first step along a path towards trying to contain and pull down the peak,” he said.
Sir Patrick said the Government hoped that by sticking to its current plan, the number of people catching the virus could be 50 per cent lower at the peak, with the mortality rate being reduced by between 20 and 30 per cent.
Johnson was speaking as it was confirmed that the death toll for the flu-like illness in the UK had risen to five, with 319 positive diagnoses.
NHS England told the Press Association that a fifth patient had died after testing positive for the illness.
The government has meanwhile lifted time restrictions on supermarket home deliveries in a bid to help retail giants keep up with rising demand from the outbreak.
Following crisis talks with retailers, officials confirmed that overnight bans - put in force to avoid disturbing residents - would be lifted.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: "We have listened to our leading supermarkets and representatives from across the industry, and we are taking action to support their preparations. By allowing night time deliveries to our supermarkets and food retailers we can free them up to move their stocks more quickly from their warehouses to their shelves.
"Our retailers have well-established contingency plans in place and are taking all the necessary steps to ensure consumers have the food and supplies they need. I will continue to work closely with them over the coming days and weeks on this."
Johnson said he was "confident" that supermarkets had "fantastic supply chains" to handle increased demand, but he urged Brits to avoid stockpiling and panic-buying.
"I think it's very, very important that everyone should behave responsibly and think about others," he said.
But Commons and Lords authorities said there were currently "no plans" to suspend Parliament in response to the mounting crisis.
In a joint statement, Parliamentary bosses said: "The Commissions of both Houses met today to discuss Parliament’s response to Coronavirus. There are no plans to suspend Parliament."
They added: "We continue to act entirely in line with the advice of Public Health England and the Speakers and political leadership of both Houses are keeping the situation under constant review."