‘Many more families will lose loved ones’: Boris Johnson’s grim warning to the public

London: Boris Johnson warned Britons that many more will lose their loved ones as his government shifted its response from "containing" coronavirus to delaying the outbreak's peak.

Declaring it the worst "public health crisis for a generation," the British prime minister said the disease was "more dangerous" than the seasonal flu owing to the lack of immunity in the community.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned the public about future losses.Credit:Getty

"I must level with you," he said. "Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time."

Johnson said anyone with mild symptoms should stay at home for a new quarantine period for "at least" seven, instead of 14 days.

Testing would be restricted only to patients in hospital, a concession that the disease's spread will be rapid and widespread.

But the British PM resisted imposing travel bans implemented by Australia, the US and a growing number of European countries, including Ireland or any shutdowns of schools and major events.

A public health crisis: an empty flight from London’s Heathrow Airport.Credit:Bloomberg

Britain's authorities believe travel bans are ineffective and that imposing them now would be too late anyway.

But Johnson said closing down major public events like football matches could be an option in future weeks. He said closing schools now would do more harm than good but said this could change.

Britain's chief medical officer and scientific advisor said the UK was about four weeks behind Italy where 1016 have now died and more than 15,000 are infected and that the peak would be in about 10-14 weeks – likely in June.

The PM warned that tough times were coming and said millions of volunteers would be needed in coming weeks.

He announced a change in the UK's response, requesting anyone with minor symptoms to stay at home for seven days because patients are most infectious in the first five days of contracting the virus.

"We've done what we can be done to contain this disease and this has brought us valuable time but it's now a global pandemic and the number of cases will rise sharply," Johnson told reporters at Number 10 Downing Street.

He said the true number of infections was "much higher" than the 590 confirmed with tests.

Johnson said the government was focused on trying to slow the peak of the disease until the weather was warmer when fewer people have respiratory diseases thus freeing up pressure on the national health service.

Two more people with underlying health conditions succumbed to the disease taking the UK's death toll to 10.

The Electoral Commission wrote to the UK government recommending the local and mayoral elections due in May be postponed.

"This is due to growing risks to the delivery of the polls and to mitigate the impact on voters, campaigners and electoral administrators," the commission said.

The British Labour party cancelled its special conference where its new leader would be named and said the results of the race would be announced at a "scaled back event."

A range of countries including Slovakia, Czech Republic and Ireland closed their borders and The Netherlands banned gatherings of more than 100 people putting the next phase of the MH17 trial in doubt.

Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania, Algeria and Slovakia joined the growing list of countries shutting down their school systems, and Europe's most successful soccer team, Real Madrid, put all its players into quarantine after one tested positive.

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