Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that many more families will see their loved ones dies from COVID-19.
Mr Johnson said this at a news conference following a meeting of his governments emergency committee on Thursday (12 March) where he shifted the country’s outbreak response from “containment” to “delay”. The third phase is “mitigation”.
The delay phase includes measures on social distancing such as encouraging work-from-home arrangements, limiting large gatherings, and closing schools.
However, Mr Johnson said that the government will not be cancelling major public events for now and that schools will stay open, though that advice could change.
“It’s going to spread further,” noted Mr Johnson.
“I must level with you, level with the British public – more families, many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”
Given recent developments regarding the spread of the virus, Britain and the European Union (EU) have agreed to put a halt to face-to-face trade negotiations that were scheduled for next week in London.
The virus continues to cause more and more disruptions to trade, business, and day-to-day life, including severe effects on the British economy. Britain’s FTSE 100 saw its worse one-day performance since 1987, falling 10.9 percent. That is the single biggest fall since the British public voted to leave the EU in 2016.
As the virus spreads and the World Health Organisation (WHO) declares the outbreak a global pandemic, the British government has come under fire for not employing a stricter or more far-reaching strategy in containing the outbreak, the way other countries have.
Mr Johnson defended this approach by saying that the government is adhering to scientific advice and will “do the right thing at the right time”. He added that those with mild symptoms should self-isolate for at least seven days. He explained that the advice for isolation could evolve in the next few weeks to require entire households to stay home if just one person has exhibits symptoms.
Mr Johnson described the outbreak as “the worst public health crisis for a generation”.
So far, the United Kingdom has confirmed 590 COVID-19 cases, with a 29 percent increase in cases over just 24 hours. Ten people have died from the virus in the UK.
Chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance stated that there are more than 20 patients currently in intensive care.
Referring to the total number of cases, Mr Vallance said, “If you calculate what that really means in terms of the total number, it is much more likely that you have somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people infected at the moment.”
Commenting on Britain’s response to the virus, Mr Vallance said that the country is currently about four weeks behind Italy, which has reported over 15,000 cases and 1,000 fatalities so far. Mr Vallance predicted that the worse is yet to come for Britain, probably at least ten to 14 weeks away.
Even so, England’s chief medical adviser Chris Whitty noted that the country is not yet testing all suspected cases of the virus, with governments focusing their efforts in hospitals.
Mr Whitty added that social interaction for the elderly and vulnerable will be reduced in the delay phase, but not yet.
“People start off with the best of intentions but enthusiasm at a certain point starts to flag,” remarked Mr Whitty. “So we do need to do it at the last point it is reasonable … to get through what will be quite difficult things to do.”
In Ireland, however, acting Prime Minister Leo Varadkar pointed out that schools, universities, and childcare facilities will be closed until 29 March and that mass gatherings are restricted.