Boris Johnson to address the nation on latest measures to tackle coronavirus threat
- Credit: PA
On Monday (March 16) ministers and officials will consider measures including banning mass gatherings and lengthy household isolation for the elderly.
The prime minister will chair an emergency meeting of the Cobra committee on Monday afternoon before holding the first of the daily press conferences being planned to update the public on Covid-19.
It comes as the Guardian reported on a Public Health England (PHE) briefing which warned health chiefs the epidemic in the UK could last until spring next year and could lead up to 7.9million people being admitted to hospital.
As the UK death toll reached 35 on Sunday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said over-70s could be told to stay at home for up to four months within the “coming weeks”.
Under the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020, which were passed last month, a person who is required to be kept in isolation can be taken there by a constable, with the use of “reasonable force, if necessary”.
Failure to comply with restrictions, or absconding from isolation, is punishable with a fine of up to £1,000.
Mr Johnson is expected to discuss the isolation proposal, as well as banning mass gatherings and isolating entire households if one member shows symptoms, during the emergency meeting.
The idea of isolating those aged over 70 would “consign a particular cohort to misery”, former home secretary David Blunkett said.
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Writing in the Daily Mail, he added: “I have real concerns that imposing isolation on the over-70s could be widely misunderstood in the current atmosphere of near panic.
“Just as people have begun to stockpile toilet rolls for no reason, an irrational notion could spread among the public that older people are being ordered to stay inside not for their own protection but because they present some imaginary risk to younger people.”
Meanwhile, the PM will also on Monday ask British manufacturers including the Unipart Group to support the production of essential medical equipment for the NHS, such as ventilators which are desperately in need.
And he will speak with all G7 leaders including US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss a co-ordinated global response to the pandemic.
Amid criticism over a lack of transparency, Downing Street announced plans to hold daily televised press conferences so either the PM or a senior minister can face scrutiny.
Mr Johnson will be joined by Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance on Monday.
Some in the scientific community have criticised the government for taking a slower and more relaxed response to the pandemic than other countries.
But restrictive measures could be announced during the conference.
The Department of Health and Social Care said on Sunday that 14 more patients had died after testing positive for the virus, taking the UK-wide total to 35.
The number of confirmed positive tests reached 1,391, but the true figure of people in the UK with the disease is likely to be far higher.
Dr Susan Hopkins, PHE’s national infection service deputy director, said: “PHE used reasonable worst-case scenario figures, to restate the importance for people with symptoms to stay at home, including healthcare workers in order to reduce the spread of the virus.”
The document’s estimate that 15per cent of the nation could be admitted to hospital was understood to have been extrapolated from data reported by other nations.
A bill detailing emergency powers to deal with the outbreak is expected to be published on Thursday.