Coronavirus delay phase: How it will affect schools, the elderly and events in the UK

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Coronavirus cases in Britain may already be in the tens of thousands, the government has said, as officials set out a raft of new measures to help limit the spread.

Speaking at a press conference at Downing Street last week, Boris Johnson and a team of advisers warned that the outbreak is unlikely to peak before summer, and the Government announced more draconian lockdown measures to get the virus under control, including closing non-essential shops and ordering people not to gather in groups of more than two.

The Prime Minister warned many more people will die, and urged the public to stay at home if they show any symptoms and to keep pressure off the health service by not visiting hospitals, surgeries or ringing NHS 111 unless their condition deteriorates. Here is a round-up of the new information and advice outlined by the government. 

The virus

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government's chief scientific adviser, said that Britain is currently around four weeks behind Italy, he said, which has more than 124,000 confirmed cases and more than 15,000 deaths. 

A total of 4,313 people have now died in Britain. The patients were aged between 93 and 5.

The epidemic is now in the delay phase rather than containment and so nobody will now be tested for coronavirus unless they are already in hospital and show symptoms

Contact tracing will also no longer be taking place and there will no longer be geographical limits on who gets tested as experts said it was no longer relevant.

Sir Patrick said he hoped Britain could change the current trajectory of disease and ‘deflect’ a huge spike in cases as has been seen in Italy. He said the virus is expected to peak in 10 to 14 weeks when 95 per cent of the infections are expected to take place. It means that most people will contract the virus between late May and late June. 

Self-isolation 

Anyone who develops even mild symptoms, such as a persistent cough or high temperature should now stay at home for seven days, keep two metres away from others and, if possible, sleep alone. 

People with any symptoms should not to go to work, school, or public areas, use public transport or taxis, or even go for a walk.

They should only contact NHS 111 if they get worse after a week.  Those who are self-isolating already because they have been to an at-risk country or in contact with someone who has, should also not contact NHS 111 unless their condition deteriorates. 

The advice recommends asking friends, family and employers for their assistance with what they require to remain at home for seven days.

Explaining the advice to self-isolate for seven days, the Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty acknowledged it was "something which will interfere with their lives and interfere with their work and their social life in quite significant ways".

The Prime Minister added: “There is no escaping the reality that these measures will cause severe disruption across our country for many months.”

Family isolation

Families of those who are self-isolating are also expected to be told to stay at home in coming months.

Mr Johnson said: “If someone in a household has those symptoms, we will be asking everyone in the household to stay at home. I want to signal now that this is coming down the track.”

Currently anyone living with a person in quarantine should use a separate bathroom from the rest of the household if possible which should be cleaned after each use. 

Advice also states to use separate crockery and a dishwasher if possible, but if not, to wash dishes as normal with hot water but with a separate tea towel.

Personal waste, including used tissues and disposable cleaning cloths, should be stored securely within two disposable rubbish bags and kept separate from the rest of a person's household waste.

It should be kept aside for at least 72 hours before being put in the external household waste bin, the advice states.

The government is hoping to delay the amount of time people are forced to stay at home until the epidemic is nearing its peak, in case "enthusiasm starts to flag".

Travel 

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said British citizens are being advised against non-essential foreign travel for 30 days.

That refers to anywhere outside the UK.

In a Commons statement, he told MPs: "Based on the fast-changing international circumstances today I am announcing changes to FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) travel advice.

"UK travellers abroad now face widespread international border restrictions and lockdowns in various countries.

"The FCO will always consider the safety and the security of British nationals so with immediate effect I've taken the decision to advise British nationals against non-essential travel globally for an initial period of 30 days and of course subject to ongoing review."

Many countries have issued travel bans and restrictions to avoid residents and tourists travelling to and from infected areas.

The elderly 

The government said that in the coming weeks, it will be introducing further social distancing measures for older and vulnerable people, asking them to self-isolate regardless of symptoms. Matt Hancock said that people aged over 70 will be asked to self-isolate for up to four months in order to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

The government is hoping that if they time isolation measures correctly, the vulnerable and elderly will emerge from their homes after herd immunity has built up and will consequently be more protected. 

Asked if that was in the Government's plan, he told Sky's Sophy Ridge On Sunday: "That is in the action plan, yes, and we will be setting it out with more detail when it is the right time to do so because we absolutely appreciate that it is a very big ask of the elderly and the vulnerable, and it's for their own self-protection."

Pressed on when the measure will be introduced, he said: "Certainly in the coming weeks, absolutely."

Public health experts are also concerned that shutting older people off for long periods of time could leave them socially isolated and lonely. Read our advice on how you can help elderly relatives and friends.

Mass events / sporting fixtures 

Sporting events, concerts and other “mass gatherings” have been cancelled after Boris Johnson performed an about-turn over the Government’s handling of coronavirus.

The Prime Minister decided to ban major events just 24 hours after insisting he would not be following Scotland’s lead in outlawing crowds of more than 500 people.

It came after the Premier League had taken matters into its own hands by announcing the suspension of the football season until next month and the London Marathon was postponed until October by its organisers. The Grand National and the Boat Race have both been cancelled.

Sir Patrick, the Chief Scientific Adviser, explained that most virus carriers are likely to infect, on average, two or three others and that this is far more probable in an enclosed environment, such as a home or pub, than at a football stadium.

Iconic events such as Wimbledon, Glastonbury Festival and Royal Ascot have all been axed, while new laws will allow the Government to pay out compensation.

Schools

After a delay, the Government announced that schools will close except for the children of “key workers”. 

The Prime Minister announced that A-level and GCSE exams this summer have been cancelled as schools prepare to shut their doors "until further notice" for the first time since the Second World War.

The Department of Education has published a full list of roles that the Government considers to be “key”, including teachers, NHS staff and emergency services.

Read more: Who is a key worker? The full list

Personal symptoms

For most people who get infected with coronavirus, the illness will be a relatively short affair - a handful of days.

Sir Patrick said the majority will live with a repetitive cough or slight fever, or both, for approximately three days after first experiencing symptoms and then recover.

However, more vulnerable patients will enter a second phase when their immune response overreacts to the infection, potentially threatening the functioning of key organs.

This can manifest itself as shortness of breath.

Mr Johnson acknowledged that even though Covid-19 is "particularly dangerous" for older people, even for the majority of them the symptoms will be mild.

Professor Whitty sought to remind people that even those who do not feel too dreadful can spread the disease:

“People with really quite mild symptoms can spread this virus to a lot of people.”