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Covid-19: UK moves into delay stage but schools will stay open

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the “most dangerous period is not now but some weeks away”.

Boris Johnson speaking at a press conference today,
Boris Johnson speaking at a press conference today,
Image: PA

THE UK HAS moved onto the next stage of its response to the coronavirus outbreak as experts and politicians accepted it could no longer be contained.

The shift, which could see restrictions imposed in an effort to delay the spread of the disease, was confirmed by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon following a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee chaired by Boris Johnson.

The move came as two more deaths were announced in British hospitals and the number of people who had tested positive for coronavirus reached almost 600.

Ten people have now died in the UK after testing positive for Covid-19 and 596 people are known to have contracted the virus.

Speaking today, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the most dangerous period is still some weeks away. 

He stressed that the “lines of defence” must be deployed at the right time to maximise their effort. The prime minister advised against international school trips but said that schools should stay open. 

He said: “The most important task will be to protect our elderly and most vulnerable people during the peak weeks when there is the maximum risk of exposure to the disease and when the NHS will be under the most pressure.

“So the most dangerous period is not now but some weeks away depending on how fast it spreads.”

Johnson said he had to level with the British public that “many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time”.

He said: “It’s clear that coronavirus Covid-19 continues and will continue to spread across the world and our country over the next few months.

“We’ve done what can be done to contain this disease, and this has bought us valuable time, but it’s now a global pandemic.

“The number of cases will rise sharply, indeed the true number of cases is higher – perhaps much higher – than the number of cases we have so far confirmed with tests.”

He said even if the peak of the disease is delayed by a “few weeks” the NHS will be in a stronger position to handle it because of the improving weather, more beds will be available and there will be greater time for medical research.

“We’ve all got to be clear, this is the worst public health crisis for a generation,” Johnson said. 

“Some people compare it to seasonal flu, alas that is not right.

“Due to the lack of immunity this disease is more dangerous.

“It is going to spread further and I must level with you, I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.” 

Impact

The latest deaths in the UK 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.

In Scotland,  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “The decision has been taken that we have now moved from a contain phase into the delay phase where the objective is to seek to slow down the spread of the virus, to reduce the numbers who will be infected at the peak, the number infected at any one time.”

From tomorrow, anyone with symptoms indicative of coronavirus should self-isolate for seven days, she said.

From Monday, mass gatherings in Scotland are set to be restricted as Sturgeon said it is “inappropriate that we continue as normal”.

She acknowledged the move, which will apply to some events involving crowds of 500 or more, will “not have a significant impact on the spread of the virus” but it will ease pressure on frontline emergency services.

With reporting by Orla Dwyer

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