Coronavirus is spreading in the UK and a major epidemic is expected.
A worst case scenario could see 80% of people infected if nothing is done.
What is the UK now doing about coronavirus?
The UK government’s aim is to delay the spread of the disease and reduce the epidemic’s peak (when the number of cases is highest).
Some measures are already in place, but the government – taking advice from its chief medical and scientific advisers – is thinking about what comes next.
- All people with flu-like symptoms – a fever above 37.8C or a persistent cough – should self-isolate (stay at home, away from other people) for seven days
- Schools should not take trips abroad
- Older people and those with pre-existing health conditions should avoid cruises
In the next stage:
- Everyone over 70 will be told “within the coming weeks” to stay at home for an extended period
- If someone in your home falls ill, the whole household will be told to isolate itself for 14 days
It is hoped these steps could significantly reduce the number of infections and cut deaths by up to a third.
Could schools close and public gatherings be banned?
The government has other powers it could use to protect people from infection:
- School closures and – once a new law is passed – allowing bigger class sizes if there are teacher shortages
- Restrictions on the use of public transport
- Stopping big gatherings
- Troops supporting the emergency services
- Police focusing on the most serious crimes and maintaining public order
- New legal powers to make people stay in quarantine
The UK government is now going to give a daily briefing on its plans.
Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have the power to make some of their own decisions.
For example, Scotland has issued official advice to cancel gatherings of more than 500 people. Northern Ireland has said that when schools will close it will be for at least 16 weeks.
Is the NHS ready for coronavirus?
Up to one in five UK workers could be off sick during a major outbreak, the government says.
It thinks there could be more deaths, especially among elderly people and those with major underlying health conditions.
Thirty hospitals are on stand-by for patients, but the whole NHS is on an emergency footing.
Hospitals have plans to keep coronavirus patients separate and supply staff with protective masks and suits.
All hospital patients with flu-like symptoms are being tested. If someone tests positive, they may be moved to one of the main hospitals.
Patients with mild symptoms are being asked to self-isolate at home. Community teams will keep an eye on them if need be.
But people are being advised not to ring NHS 111 to report their symptoms unless they are worried.
How will the NHS treat seriously ill patients?
Currently there is no treatment or cure, so hospitals are trying to relieve the symptoms.
Specialist ECMO breathing equipment is at five units for patients whose lungs fail.
The government says it wants to make thousands more ventilators – which help people breathe – available to the NHS.
If there is widespread transmission, hospitals could start cancelling routine treatments to prioritise coronavirus patients.
It is estimated one in 20 patients may become critically ill, which could overwhelm the NHS. There are more than 4,000 intensive care beds, which can be increased. By how much is not clear.
Doctors warn some difficult decisions may need to be made about which patients get treatment.
What is the UK hoping to achieve?
There would be less pressure on the NHS by delaying the peak to the summer when the rate of transmission may be lower.
Drugs including those to treat malaria and HIV are being tested, while work is ongoing to develop a vaccine.
But if cases are reduced too much, there is the risk a second wave could hit next winter.
However, some experts disagree with the government’s strategy.
Getting the balance right is, it’s fair to say, going to be very difficult.
What questions do you have about the UK’s coronavirus plans?
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