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What is the coronavirus advice for vulnerable people?

Advice for the elderly, children, pregnant women and young people with asthma.


The coronavirus continues to spread in the UK (Michael Cooper/PA)

The coronavirus continues to spread in the UK (Michael Cooper/PA)

The coronavirus continues to spread in the UK (Michael Cooper/PA)

As the coronavirus continues to spread in the UK, advice has been issued to members of vulnerable groups.

At a meeting of the Health and Social Care Committee on Thursday, Professor Chris Whitty told MPs there was no need for members of the public to stockpile food or medicine.

MPs asked Prof Whitty and deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries about a number of groups who may be more vulnerable to the respiratory illness.

– Elderly people

The chief medical officer said there was no benefit in elderly people self-isolating at the moment and stressed the importance of older people remaining socially active.

Prof Whitty said: “One of the best things we can do to reduce the impact on older people and reduce the impact on the NHS as well… is to isolate older people from the virus. the difficulty is we need to make sure we do that without isolating them from society, exacerbating loneliness.

“We do not think it is a good idea whilst there’s almost no transmission.

“People self-isolating over this period they could be then having to isolate themselves which would inevitably involve some social isolation for some months and that would not be a good thing.”

Professor Chris Whitty and Dr Jenny Harries
Professor Chris Whitty and Dr Jenny Harries went before MPs on Thursday (House of Commons/PA)

Prof Whitty added that more advice would be coming for elderly people and their families.

He said: “The key thing we are trying to do is make sure it’s the virus that doesn’t come into contact with the older person, not all society.”

– Children

Children have been encouraged to wash hands their hands a minimum of four times a day, including supervised handwashing at school.

Dr Harries explained: “Children are not particularly careful about where they put their hands or what they do with them so four sounds like a minimum.

“Supervised handwashing is a good thing and it’s not just about coronavirus.”

Prof Whitty said they will not encourage schools to close unless someone at the school had been diagnosed or there is a real risk.

He added: “We only want schools to close if they really really need to.”

– Children with Asthma

Parents of children with Asthma have been reassured that there is no evidence that children with asthma come to “deep harm” with the coronavirus as the attack and mortality rates among children are very low.

Willow Bank Infant School in Reading, Berkshire
Willow Bank Infant School in Reading, Berkshire, was shut after a staff member tested positive for coronavirus (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Prof Whitty said: “This will be a respiratory infection like any other respiratory infection for children. If they have significant asthma it may trigger off an asthma attack but no differently from, in my view, many other respiratory infections they might have and I would only expect that to happen once.”

He also said an incredibly small number of children may need to self-isolate in the future if the virus progresses.

He added: “If children have incredibly bad asthma… I think in that group common sense would suggest they probably should be in the group who are isolated.”

– Smokers

The chief medical officer said although public health officials worry about smokers more for respiratory infections, he said “the evidence was not there in this case”.

Prof Whitty told MPs: “To be clear on smokers, my recommendation is that they stop smoking. If you are going to give up smoking, this is a very good moment to do it.

“But it is not that I’m saying they should self-isolate or behave in any way differently. I’m just highlighting that as an additional vulnerability for people who are otherwise healthy.”

– Pregnant women

Pregnant women have been advised not to worry about the coronavirus.

Children have been encouraged to wash their hands at least four times a day
Children have been encouraged to wash their hands at least four times a day (Philip Toscano/PA)

Prof Whitty said: “At the moment we don’t know for sure what the effect of this virus is in early pregnancy because this virus hasn’t been around for long enough.

“That’s an honest fact but other coronaviruses do not appear to have major problems in pregnancy so reading across at this point it’s not something that is a major worry, whilst never excluding the possibility.

“There have been the earliest descriptions of women who have caught coronavirus whilst in the late stages of pregnancy and so far there is no evidence of any major problems at that point that I would worry about.

“I certainly don’t think pregnant women should start worrying about this, this is very different to let’s say the Zika infection where the big risk was in pregnant women.”

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