PRIME Minister Boris Johnson is set to escalate the UK's response to the coronavirus epidemic sweeping the country.
Today he'll chair a meeting of Britain's emergency committee – known as COBRA – at which he is expected to approve moving to the "delay phase" of the coronavirus response.
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What is the coronavirus delay phase?
The plan for dealing with the coronavirus epidemic has three main phases – containment, delay and mitigation.
The PM is expected to move to the next stage, from containment, to try and combat the deadly virus which has so far killed eight people, and infected 460 people in the UK.
When COBRA meets early this afternoon, members intend to switch tactics to delay the killer bug's spread, after failing to contain the disease.
The delay phase will see a mixture of the same advice given out, such as encouraging people to wash their hands regularly.
However, social restriction measures will be introduced to try and slow the rate of spread.
In the delay phase, so called social distancing measures such as school closures, more home working and reducing large scale gathering will be considered.
The Government's planning document on the bug says: "The delay phase also buys time for the testing of drugs and initial development of vaccines and/or improved therapies or tests to help reduce the impact of the disease."
Ministers have regularly said that bringing in tough social clampdowns too early could prove counterproductive as the public would tire of the restrictions.
But, reports the Associated Press, it appears the PM and his advisers feel the time is right to escalate delay preparations.
What are the new social-distancing rules?
Social-distancing rules are thought to include urging employees to work from home where possible.
This would encourage people to stop using crowded buses and trains.
Plus, schools might be shut down, and events cancelled where masses of people are expected to gather.
"Some of these will have social costs where the benefit of doing them to delay the peak will need to be considered against the social impact," says the official action plan.
Social-distancing policies could see the elderly warned to go into lockdown, and sports events also cancelled.
Plus, people showing minor signs of any respiratory tract infections, including a cough or a fever, could be advised to self-isolate.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty warned last week that it was important to protect older people from coronavirus but he added "the difficulty is we need to make sure we do that without isolating them from society".
What is the UK's strategy for dealing with coronavirus?
There is currently neither a vaccine against coronavirus nor any specific, proven, antiviral medication.
The government says in its action plan that “the majority of people with COVID-19 have recovered without the need for any specific treatment, as is the case for the common cold or seasonal flu.
"We expect that the vast majority of cases will best be managed at home, as with seasonal colds and flu.”
Its strategy aims to:
- Minimise the potential health impact by slowing spread in the UK and overseas, and reducing infection, illness and death
- Lessen the potential impact on society and the UK and global economy, including key public services
- Ensure dignified treatment of all affected, including those who die
The overall phases of the UK's plan to respond to the coronavirus are:
- Contain: detect early cases, follow up close contacts and prevent the disease taking hold in this country for as long as is reasonably possible
- Delay: slow the spread in this country; if it does take hold, lowering the peak impact and pushing it away from the winter season
- Research: better understand the virus and the actions that will lessen its effect on the UK population; improving diagnostics, drugs and vaccines
- Mitigate: provide the best care possible for sick people, support hospitals to maintain essential services, support those ill in the community to minimise the overall impact of the disease on society, public services and on the economy
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