The advice from the PM and Chief Medical Officer following the COBR meeting on coronavirus takes us to the next stage of managing the pandemic, and is as follows:
- if you experience symptoms including a new and persistent cough or a fever, then you should stay at home and isolate yourself for seven days. It is not yet necessary for your whole household to self-isolate unless they too experience symptoms, but that will become necessary in the coming weeks.
- If you have these symptoms you do not need to call 111 or go to the doctors, you should isolate yourself and only call 111 if the symptoms worsen to the extent where you need medical help. This is in order to not put excessive strain on the health system.
- school trips abroad should be cancelled and older people should avoid high-risk situations like cruise ships, for example. Older people with pre-existing health conditions should try to limit their exposure as much as possible.
We have not yet taken the steps that some other nations have in closing schools or banning major events etc. This is for a good reason and Government is not ruling out taking those steps in the coming weeks.
As we seek to delay the spread of this crisis, which is important to protect the capacity of the health service and reduce the risk of deaths, we need to ensure that we take the right measures at the right time. At some stage, nearer to the peak of the pandemic which is predicted to be in 10-14 weeks, millions of people will be asked to stay at home and isolate themselves for a significant period of time and events etc may well be cancelled.
This will be absolutely vital during this peak time to keep people safe, and it's important that we don't go too early, which could lead to significant problems in terms of loneliness and the mental health of vulnerable people, but also risks people running out of patience and not adhering to rules at the most important time, which is still some weeks away. It is simply not practical to ask people to self-isolate for 12-16 weeks.
It's important to make clear, when people question the need for tougher "preventative" measures, that it is impossible to prevent this condition from spreading. It is not like flu and our population has no immunity to it like we do with normal influenza. It's a reasonable worst case scenario to suggest that up to 80% of us will get the virus in the coming months. That's why it's vital to follow the best scientific advice, and still most importantly to wash your hands more often.