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Government Announces Shift In Policy To Slow The Spread Of Coronavirus

By Alex Landon

Coronavirus

A raft of new measures have been announced to help halt the rapid spread of coronavirus.

After an emergency meeting of the government’s COBRA committee this afternoon, the UK government has announced new measures aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus. Official policy has shifted from containment of the virus to delaying its peak – resulting in new guidelines about self-isolating, overseas trips, and a review of school and university closures.

Containing the spread of coronavirus is no longer possible, and therefore the UK’s policy is now to delay the peak rate of infection. Success in mitigating the worst impacts of the virus comes from slowing its spread, which gives stretched hospitals time – and crucially, resources – to treat everyone infected. It’s a measure known as “flattening the curve”, and is helpfully demonstrated by this graph.

The hope is that the coronavirus peak in the UK can be pushed back until summer, when the NHS will be better prepared to cope with a deluge of cases. Efforts to fight the virus have stepped up since the World Health Organisation classified it as a pandemic yesterday, which has resulted in the new policies. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it “the worst public health crisis for a generation” in an announcement this evening, and here are the key takeaways from his press conference:

  • New self-isolating procedure: from tomorrow (Friday, March 13), if you have symptoms consistent with coronavirus (fever, dry cough, headache – however mild they might be) then you should stay home for seven days.
  • Minor restrictions on movement: overseas schools trips should not be going ahead, and anyone over the age of 70 shouldn’t be heading off on cruises.
  • Review of school closures: UK schools and universities won’t be closed yet, but this decision will be kept under review – if they do close, it will have to be for an extended period, possibly extending until the summer.
  • A possible ban on major sports events: this is only a consideration for now, and it results from the burden such events place on public services, rather than a fear of virus spreading.

More drastic measures had been mooted, including a potential month-long shutdown of schools and so-called ‘social distancing’, which would entail a lot more working from home and a possible ban on gatherings of large sizes. The UK government has opted not to go for that yet, but it’s a possibility in the coming weeks should things get worse, as Johnson warned of “severe disruption across the county for many months”. The Prime Minister has also warned that there could be as many as 10,000 cases of the virus across the country, if one takes into consideration the number of undiagnosed cases.

Coronavirus

Schools have reportedly already been put on alert of a prolonged closure, with the Manchester Evening News reporting that teachers have reportedly been asked to put together ‘home-learning packs’ design to minimise disruption to education.

The new announcement has little immediate impact on the day-to-day life in London, save for individual company work from home policies – although if more serious measures are eventually put in place, we could see school and university closures, along with the cancellation of large sporting and cultural events. Thankfully though, the UK budget, which was released this week, offers a £3 billion emergency fund to protect pubs and other venues from the worst impacts of a coronavirus slowdown.

As of 9am this morning, the number of coronavirus cases in the UK currently stands at 596, with 10 people having sadly passed away as a result of the virus. Thursday’s jump of 134 cases was the biggest single-day increase so far. Unsurprisingly, given the large population density, London is one of the worst-affected areas, with 136 cases spread across the city. Boroughs with the highest number of cases include Kensington and Chelsea, Southwark, Barnet, and Camden.

Other countries have opted for alternative tactics. Ireland enacted a dramatic set of measures – closing schools, colleges, childcare facilities, and cultural institutions, and banning indoor gatherings of over 100 people – this morning, and Denmark became the second European country to go on lockdown, following Italy’s example, after a sharp rise in cases. In other news:

  • The entire Spanish government will undergo testing after the country’s equality minister tested positive for the virus.
  • Manila, capital of the Philippines, is going on lockdown to help contain the spread.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is self-isolating after his wife underwent tests for the virus.
  • The Czech Republic has barred travellers from 15 countries, including the UK, from entering the country, and has barred its citizens from visiting these countries.
  • Over in the US, a ban on flights from Europe (excluding the UK) and the suspension of the NBA are just two new developments.

Coronavirus

There is better news on the horizon though; China, in which the first cases of coronavirus were reported, and easily the hardest-hit country worldwide, has declared that they’ve passed the peak of the outbreak, with new cases falling daily.

Things are almost certain to get worse before they get better here in the UK, so do try adhere to these new measures. In the meantime, look out for one another and the more vulnerable amongst you – if you’re going shopping, buy only what you need, and maybe make a supermarket run for anyone you know who can’t easily get to the shops. Oh, and for goodness sake, wash your hands. Coronavirus lives on surfaces for up to three days, you know, so scrub them properly as often as you can!

We’ll keep you updated with more info as soon as we have it.


Also published on Medium.