Matt Hancock today confirmed the government will tell the elderly to stay at home for up to four months as he admitted the NHS does not currently have enough ventilators for the fight against coronavirus.
The Health Secretary said people over the age of 70 will be told to self-isolate even if they do not have symptoms in a bid to stem the spread of the disease and protect the most vulnerable in society.
He said ‘we don’t want to do that too soon because clearly it is not an easy thing to do, it is not an easy thing to sustain’ but he said he expected the stay-at-home advice to be issued ‘certainly in the coming weeks absolutely’.
Meanwhile, the government has issued a ‘call to arms’ to manufacturers in the UK to ask them to build ventilators for the NHS.
Mr Hancock said the health service currently has an estimated 5,000 of the machines but it will need ‘many times more than that’ because they are the ‘big thing’ needed in the fight against coronavirus.
The Health Secretary said ‘it is not possible to produce too many’ as he promised the government will buy all those which are made.
However, he refused to guarantee that everyone who needs a ventilator will have access to one as he said ‘we don’t make guarantees in health care’ but he vowed to do ‘everything we possibly can to protect life’.
Meanwhile, Mr Hancock also hit out at people who are needlessly panic-buying.
He said shoppers needed to ‘behave responsibly’ and ministers are ‘confident’ that the UK’s existing ‘food supply will continue’.
Despite the grim outlook, Mr Hancock said the UK has endured worse, telling Sky News: ‘We have been through worse as a country, of course we have, but it is a very significant challenge
‘The measures that we are taking, the measures that we are looking at taking, are very, very significant and they will disrupt the ordinary lives of almost everybody in this country in order to tackle this virus.’
Mr Hancock’s comments came after the number of positive tests for coronavirus in the UK increased to 1,140 on Saturday while the death toll hit 21.
The government is effectively now on a war footing as it responds to the deadly outbreak and is stepping up its efforts to prepare the nation as the spread of the disease gets worse.
The mass isolation of the elderly – even if they are not ill – is expected to start within the next 20 days and it is one of a number of measures now being prepared by ministers as they step up their response.
Whole families will be told to isolate themselves even if just one member falls ill with coronavirus.
Tomorrow NHS England will hand out new guidelines for hospitals which will tell trusts they can scrap routine surgery and outpatient appointments to free up resources.
The government is striking agreements with private hospitals so that more beds can be brought into public use should existing NHS provision be overwhelmed.
The UK’s death rate doubled overnight as a further ten patients died from the coronavirus. The total number of cases in the UK leapt from 820 to 1,140 on Saturday
Mass isolating of the elderly – even if they are not ill – will begin within the next 20 days as Boris Johnson ratchets up efforts to tackle the UK’s outbreak
TROOPS ON STREETS TO FIGHT VIRUS
By Glen Owen and Mark Nicol and Harry Cole for the Mail on Sunday
Ministers have drawn up plans to put troops on the streets to help deal with the coronavirus crisis after the number of deaths almost doubled within 24 hours.
In preparation for the worst-case scenario, defence sources told The Mail on Sunday that Army units were stepping up their training for public order roles – including the guarding of hospitals and supermarkets.
The Royal Logistics Corps are preparing to be used to escort food convoys and the Royal Army Medical Corps is poised to build tented field hospitals next to care homes.
Troops trained in chemical, biological and nuclear warfare will deep-clean empty public buildings in case they need to be turned in to hospitals or morgues.
And the Army has also drawn up contingency plans to keep petrol stations topped up with fuel when the country reaches ‘peak virus’.
Defence sources told this newspaper that under the contingency plans, 38 military liaison officers would work with local councils to brief civil servants on how the Armed Forces could help combat the crisis.
The most essential staff, such as RAF Typhoon pilots, would be quarantined at work to ensure the UK’s continued protection and the SAS’s stand-by squadron would be held in the UK, rather than be deployed overseas.
If the crisis deepens, hundreds – possibly thousands – of troops could be deployed. Hundreds of members of the Armed Forces hold HGV licences and are trained in transporting hazardous loads such as fuel.
Members of the Royal Military Police would also support local constabularies, while troops could also be used to drive ambulances and fire engines.
Meanwhile, troops could be deployed to guard hospitals and supermarkets, and police could under a worst case scenario be told to only deal with loss of life incidents.
Elsewhere, economists predicted that the UK could suffer a six per cent drop in GDP in the coming months.
The government will this week move to ban mass gatherings so that 999 services can focus on coronavirus as ministers crash emergency legislation through the House of Commons to give them the powers they need.
The increase in activity came after 10 more patients died in England after testing positive for Covid-19, while the US government imposed a travel ban on the UK and Ireland in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 10 patients who died since Friday were being cared for in Buckinghamshire, Sandwell & West Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Leicester, Barts, London, north Middlesex and Chester, NHS England said.
A number of the patients, who were over 60, had underlying health conditions.
There had been 1,140 positive tests for coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Saturday, up from 798 at the same time on Friday.
The UK death toll now stands at 21, with 20 in England and one in Scotland.
Pressure on the NHS is expected to grow to previously unprecedented levels in the coming weeks with the number of coronavirus cases expected to spike.
Mr Hancock said ventilators will be key to the health service’s ability to treat people.
He told Sophy Ridge on Sky News: ‘We start with around 5,000 ventilators, we think we need many times more than that and we are saying if you produce a ventilator then we will buy it. No number is too high.’
‘They are relatively complicated pieces of kit, I couldn’t make one, but they’re not so complicated that the advanced manufacturing that this country is so good at now can’t be able to turn its production lines over to.
‘We’ve been talking to a whole host of companies about it and the Prime Minister is hosting a conference call today with them to say very clearly to the nation’s manufacturers ventilators are the thing that we are going to need and frankly right across the world, the demand for them is incredibly high so it is not possible to produce too many.
‘So anybody who can should turn production and their engineering minds over to the production of ventilators.’
The government is urging major companies like JCB and Rolls Royce to convert their production lines to produce the artificial respirators.
Ministers are under growing pressure to do more to combat panic-buying which has gripped supermarkets up and down the UK in recent days.
Asked if food supply might be at risk, the Health Secretary said: ‘No, one of the things we are confident about is that the food supply will continue.’
But pressed to guarantee this would not be the case, he said: ‘Well we are confident about it. What I can guarantee is we will work with the supermarkets to ensure that people get enough.
‘I understand why people might be stocking up but people have got to behave responsibly.’
The Health Secretary denied that achieving ‘herd immunity’ was part of the government’s policy in tackling the coronavirus outbreak.
He responded to criticism from some elements of the scientific community, and when asked if he was playing ‘roulette’ with public safety Mr Hancock replied: ‘No, obviously.’
‘What we will do is listen to all the credible scientists and we will look at all the evidence,’ he added.
‘Herd immunity is not our goal or policy, it’s a scientific concept. Our policy is to protect lives and to beat this virus.’
The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 across Europe is 40,677 and the number of deaths is 1,553. The World Health Organisation has said that Europe is the new epicentre of the virus
Shoppers are faced with partially empty shelves at a supermarket in London as consumers worry about product shortages as a result of the coronavirus
QUEEN LEAVES PALACE AMID VIRUS WORRY
The Queen attends the Commonwealth Day service this month
The Queen has quit Buckingham Palace over coronavirus fears after Corbra crisis talks, it has been reported.
Her Majesty, 93, has been taken to Windsor Castle with plans in place to quarantine her and Prince Philip, 98, at Sandringham if the outbreak worsens.
The news comes as Britain’s coronavirus death rate almost doubled today as ten more people died, bringing total deaths to 21.
A royal source told The Sun: ‘She is in good health but it was thought best to move her. A lot of her staff are a bit panicky over coronavirus.
‘The Queen has met a lot of people there until recently. But she is weeks away from her 94th birthday and advisers believe it is best to get her out of harm’s way.’
Her Majesty’s upcoming visits to Cheshire and Camden were yesterday postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
She is also said to have been advised to cancel her annual garden parties in May and June in order to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
It comes after she was earlier this month reported to have vowed not to let the outbreak stop her from performing her duties and to set an example by ‘keeping calm and carrying on’ until there is ‘compelling advice to the contrary’.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Hancock today described coronavirus as the ‘biggest public health emergency in a generation’.
He said ‘dramatic action at home and abroad’ will be required to defeat it.
He also said the UK is likely to move ‘soon’ to bolster its response to the outbreak.
That will mean tougher measures designed to ‘shield’ older and medically vulnerable people with families expected to be told to self-isolate together even if only one family member has symptoms.
The elderly will soon face up to four months of self-isolation as ministers try to stop the most vulnerable groups in society from being exposed to the disease.
Mr Hancock said the country will need to work together to combat the threat of loneliness which the crackdown could result in, especially among the elderly.
He wrote: ‘Everyone will need to help to ensure they get the support they need to stay at home, and to protect them from the consequences of isolation: loneliness, and a lack of support.’
The Health Secretary invoked the spirit of the Blitz as he urged people to look out for each other.
‘Our generation has never been tested like this,’ he said.
‘Our grandparents were, during the Second World War, when our cities were bombed during the Blitz.
‘Despite the pounding every night, the rationing, the loss of life, they pulled together in one gigantic national effort.
‘Today our generation is facing its own test, fighting a very real and new disease. We must fight the disease to protect life.’
Meanwhile, Health minister Nadine Dorries said confirmation she had contracted the coronavirus was like ‘iced water trickling down my spine’.
Ms Dorries tested positive for the disease last week and remains in self-isolation.
Writing in the Sunday Times, she said of her diagnosis: ‘I stopped listening for a second as the thought flew through my mind: my mum is going to get it and it’s my fault. I had brought Covid-19 home from Westminster and had unwittingly passed it on to her.
Nadine Dorries, pictured in the House of Commons on March 4, said testing positive for coronavirus sent ‘iced water trickling down my spine’
The first UK death from coronavirus was announced on March 5, and Saturday’s announcement of 10 deaths is by far the largest number of deaths announced on a single day in the UK since the outbreak took hold
‘It felt as though the clocks had stopped. I knew that everything was about to change and I wanted to hold time where it stood.’
She said her symptoms included a persistent cough, achy muscles and intermittent night sweats.
Ms Dorries, best known by many for her stint on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, advised people to think of everything as being contaminated.
She said: ‘Every lift button, shopping-trolley handle, wait-button on a zebra crossing – and every cup in a cafe. Wash your hands for 20 seconds. Carry hand-sanitiser and use it over and over. Resist the urge to hug or shake hands with anyone.’