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UK to ask over 70s to self-isolate for up to four months

Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the request would be made in coming weeks.

Image: PA Images

THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT will ask people over the age of 70 to self-isolate for up to four months as the UK escalates its fight against coronavirus.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged that the measure is a “very big ask”, but says the move will be recommended for people’s “self-protection”.

He also confirmed that ministers were seeking to give police powers to arrest and forcibly quarantine people who are sick with the virus but who are not self-isolating.

“We are going to take the powers to make sure that we can quarantine people if they are a risk to public health, yes, and that’s important,” he told the Andrew Marr Show on the BBC.

“I doubt that actually we will need to use it much, because people have been very responsible.”

In an acknowledgement of the almost wartime measures being introduced, Hancock said the steps are “very, very significant and they will disrupt the ordinary lives of almost everybody in the country”.

The UK’s Covid-19 death toll rose from 11 to 21 on Saturday, while the number of people testing positive for the disease passed the 1,000 mark.

Hancock said that people aged over 70 will be asked in the coming weeks to self-isolate for up to four months, in order to protect them from the virus.

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.”

Production line shift

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also expected to urge manufacturers to shift their production lines to build ventilators, as the NHS prepares for a significant increase in cases of the novel coronavirus.

Hancock said that the government has been buying as many ventilators as it can, but that the UK needs to produce more too.

He said he could not make guarantees that everyone who requires a ventilator will get one, saying: “We don’t make guarantees in healthcare.”

The Health Secretary said a Bill setting out emergency powers to deal with the outbreak will be published on Thursday, and details of what the powers will include will be shared on Tuesday.

He added that ministers are yet to make a decision on whether to ban gatherings of over 500 people in the rest of the UK, after Scotland said it would bring in restrictions from Monday.

“We are absolutely ready to do that as necessary,” he said, but he pointed towards a Cobra meeting being held on Monday when asked when the decision will be made.

Other measures, including school closures, have also been considered as an option to combat the spread of the virus.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster, who has attended the Cobra meetings formulating the UK’s response, suggested that schools would need to be closed for four months if that step was taken.

The UK’s approach to developing “herd immunity” against Covid-19 has been called into question.

In an open letter, a group of 229 scientists from UK universities argued that “going for ‘herd immunity’ at this point does not seem a viable option, as this will put NHS at an even stronger level of stress, risking many more lives than necessary”.

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