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UK advises against all non-essential foreign travel for 30 days

Meanwhile, scientists say that the UK had ‘no time to lose’ in changing coronavirus strategy to prevent thousands of deaths

Updated Mar 17th 2020, 12:37 PM

featureimage Source: PA

THE UK’s FOREIGN Office is advising against all non-essential foreign travel for an initial period of 30 days.

The announcement was made by the UK’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab today in the House of Commons.

He told MPs that this decision is subject to ongoing review, and is based on measures taken in the UK and alongside other restrictions taken by countries around the world.

He said that the speed and range of changes in other countries is “unprecedented” and that some are being made without notice. 

Raab also said that the UK government is aware that international freight services is essential, and so the Department of Transport will work with the freight sector to minimise disruption.

No time to lose

Meanwhile, the UK had “no time to lose” in changing its tactics in order to prevent thousands of Covid-19 related deaths and the National Health Service being overwhelmed, scientists have said.

The Imperial College Covid-19 response team – which is one of several scientific teams advising ministers – published a paper showing that 250,000 people could die if efforts were focused only on delaying and slowing down the spread of Covid-19.

The paper analysed the most up-to-date data from Italy and the UK and concluded that the only “viable strategy” was a Chinese-style policy of “suppression” of the virus, elements of which have now been adopted in the UK.

It said: “In the UK, this conclusion has only been reached in the last few days, with the refinement of estimates of likely ICU (intensive care unit) demand due to Covid-19 based on experience in Italy and the UK (previous planning estimates assumed half the demand now estimated) and with the NHS providing increasing certainty around the limits of hospital surge capacity.

We therefore conclude that epidemic suppression is the only viable strategy at the current time.

However, the team warned that even suppression of the virus has risks, as “we predict that transmission will quickly rebound if interventions are relaxed” and some tactics may need to therefore stay in place until a vaccine is available, which could be 12 to 18 months away.

health-coronavirus Source: PA Graphics

One of the lead authors of the study, Professor Neil Ferguson, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it had become apparent that the previous tactics being adopted – which aimed to slow down the spread – would still result in a “very large number of deaths and the health system being overwhelmed”.

He said the science was continually shifting as more data became available, adding:

Initially when we came up with these sort of estimates they were viewed as what’s called a reasonable worst case, but as information has been gathered in recent weeks from, particularly Italy, but other countries, it’s become increasingly clear it’s not the reasonable worst case, it’s the most likely scenario.

Prof Ferguson said calculations from NHS planners on how much they could increase capacity in critical care played a key role in the research.

“Whilst they are planning a major expansion of that – cancelling elective surgery, building new beds, getting new ventilators – it just isn’t enough to fill the gaps that would be left,” he said.

“We are left with no option but to adopt this more draconian strategy.”

Prof Ferguson said the UK Government had got the timing about right but warned there was no time to lose.

Asked if more draconian measures should have come earlier, he told Today: “I think we are still behind the epidemic seen in other European countries, so there’s always a balancing act involved in these sort of measures in order to balance the impact of those measures, the costs on the economy against the impact on the epidemic.

health-coronavirus Source: PA Graphics

“I overall think we have got the timing about right.

“I think we’re about three weeks or so behind Italy, two weeks behind France and Spain, so we are making these decisions in a more timely manner than other European countries but certainly there wasn’t any time to lose.”

The stark warning came after Boris Johnson yesterday unveiled unprecedented peacetime measures to try to control the spread of Covid-19.

They were announced as the death toll of people with coronavirus in the UK reached 55.

In the first of his daily No 10 press conferences, the Prime Minister called on people to stay away from pubs, clubs and theatres and to avoid all non-essential contacts and travel, while those who live with somebody who is ill should stay home for 14 days.

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