The UK’s fight against coronavirus is set to dramatically escalate, with measures to shield the elderly from the disease and plans to isolate entire households.
Boris Johnson will also personally urge manufacturers to shift their production lines to build ventilators as the NHS prepares for a significant increase in cases of Covid-19.
And the Government is in talks with private hospitals about the possibility of taking over beds in a further sign of the pressures that will face the health service at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak.
In an acknowledgement of the almost wartime measures being introduced, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Our generation has never been tested like this.
“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.”
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he said everyone would have to make sacrifices to protect not only themselves, but “especially those most vulnerable to the disease”.
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.
Experts on the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) set out the need for extra action to slow the spread of the disease.
The panel advised that the next interventions “will need to be instituted soon”.
Those measures will include steps to shield the vulnerable – including the elderly and those with existing health problems – from the virus by telling them to stay in their houses or care homes.
There could also be a shift to household isolation rather than individual self-isolation.
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 have been 1,140 positive tests for coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Saturday, up from 798 at the same time on Friday.
UPDATE on coronavirus (#COVID19) testing in the UK:— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) March 14, 2020
As of 9am on 14 March, a total of 37,746 have been tested:
Across the UK, 21 patients who tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) have sadly died. pic.twitter.com/YEo5QOEGzX
The UK death toll now stands at 21, with 20 in England and one in Scotland.
At a press conference on Saturday, President Donald Trump – who said he had been tested for the virus – announced the extension of his travel restrictions to cover the UK and Ireland.
The changes will come in at midnight on Monday night in the eastern US.
Downing Street said Mr Johnson and the president spoke on Saturday evening and “the Prime Minister set out the science-led approach the UK is taking”.
On Monday the Prime Minister will urge manufacturers to join a “national effort” to produce equipment for the NHS.
Engineers have already been asked to draw up plans to quickly produce more ventilators in the UK amid concerns that critical care facilities will come under intense pressure as the Covid-19 crisis intensifies.
Negotiations are also taking place with private health firms about access to their hospital beds.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “We need every part of society and every industry to ask what they can do to help the effort.”
Whitehall sources have already indicated that mass gatherings could be banned from next weekend.
Other measures, including school closures, have also been considered as an option to combat the spread of the virus.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster, who has attended the Cobra meetings formulating the UK’s response, suggested that schools would need to be closed for four months if that step was taken.
“Schools will not be closed immediately but schools and parents should prepare because when they do they will close for at least 16 weeks,” she warned.
Meanwhile, a newborn baby in England who has tested positive for coronavirus is likely to be one of the world’s youngest patients with the disease.
The infant and its mother both tested positive at a north London hospital and staff who had contact with the pair have been advised to self-isolate.
North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust said: “Two patients at North Middlesex University Hospital have tested positive for coronavirus.
“One has been transferred to a specialist centre and one is being treated in an isolation room.”
Other developments include:
– A second death has been confirmed in the Republic of Ireland, as well as 39 more cases, bringing the total of confirmed cases of Covid-19 to 129
– WHO said Europe has become the epicentre of the pandemic
– Jet2 planes from the UK to Spain turned back in mid-air as the airline announced it was cancelling all flights to the country
– Apple closed all its stores outside China, including its flagship outlet on London’s Regent Street
The UK’s approach to developing “herd immunity” against Covid-19 has been called into question by the World Health Organisation.
Spokeswoman Margaret Harris said not enough is known about the science of the coronavirus, and that while “theories” can be talked about, the current situation requires “action”.
And in an open letter, a group of 229 scientists from UK universities argued that “going for ‘herd immunity’ at this point does not seem a viable option, as this will put NHS at an even stronger level of stress, risking many more lives than necessary”.
A Department of Health and Social care spokesman said: “Herd immunity is not part of our action plan, but is a natural by-product of an epidemic.
“Our aims are to save lives, protect the most vulnerable, and relieve pressure on our NHS.”