Coronavirus: UK preparing to ask anyone with minor cold or flu to 'self-isolate'

10 March 2020, 06:10

Anyone with minor cold, flu or fever symptoms could soon be told to stay at home for a week to prevent the spread of coronavirus
Anyone with minor cold, flu or fever symptoms could soon be told to stay at home for a week to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The coronavirus outbreak will “present significant challenges” to the UK, Boris Johnson has said with the virus set to bring a different look to many parts of society.

Brits who have cold, flu or fever symptoms could be asked to self-isolate as the Government attempts to stem the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty pointed to tighter measures aimed at protecting the public, particularly the vulnerable and elderly, which could be implemented in the next 10 to 14 days as the Covid-19 virus spreads wider.

The Government has launched a public education campaign
The Government has launched a public education campaign. Picture: PA

The news came as the British Government tightened travel restrictions on coronavirus-stricken Italy following the announcement that Italian authorities were placing over 60 million people into quarantine and the whole country is put under lockdown from Tuesday.

Read more: Coronavirus symptoms - What are they and what is the risk of Covid-19 in the UK?

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) amended its advice to warn against all but essential travel to the country on Monday evening, while the number of dead in Italy rose to 463.

The UK total currently stands at 319 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 up from 273 at the same point on Sunday, and five people have died in British hospitals.

The latest patient, who died at St Helier Hospital in Carshalton, south London, was in their seventies and was unwell with a number of significant and long-term health conditions.

Read more: Coronavirus: Beard sanitiser sales spike after NHS urged staff to shave

During a Downing Street press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters the UK will almost certainly move to the delay phase of tackling coronavirus.

Prof Whitty said the balance would tip so that more and more people would suffer coronavirus rather than regular seasonal flu or other respiratory infections.

He added: "We are expecting the numbers to increase initially quite slowly but really quite fast after a while and we have to catch it before the upswing begins.

"We are now very close to the time, probably within the next 10 to 14 days, when the modelling would imply we should move to a situation where everybody with even minor respiratory tract infections or a fever should be self-isolating for a period of seven days."

Read more: Coronavirus UK: Do surgical face masks work to avoid virus symptoms?

Mr Johnson said that although the UK currently remains in the contain phase of the response, "extensive preparations" are being made for a move to the delay phase - which seeks to put off the peak of the outbreak until summer.

Meanwhile, official NHS guidance is to be displayed at the top of internet search results as part of measures to stop the spread of disinformation around the outbreak.

As part of a new range of features for internet platforms, the health service said it had worked with Google, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram on ways to help promote "good advice" when people were searching online for information.

In developments on how the virus is behaving, experts have said people infected with Covid-19 could go five days without showing any symptoms.

Read more: Coronavirus: What is a pandemic and how is one declared?

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimated the average incubation period of the virus to be 5.1 days.

Another study found that being older, showing signs of sepsis and having blood clots were key factors associated with a higher risk of death.

The research, published by The Lancet, examined 191 patients with confirmed Covid-19 at two hospitals in Wuhan - the epicentre of the outbreak.

Read more: Brighton shop owner asks customers to wear masks and gloves amid coronavirus fear


- The FCO said US authorities are planning a flight on Tuesday to repatriate British nationals on the Grand Princess cruise ship at the Port of Oakland, California

- The University of Oxford confirmed a second student had tested positive for Covid-19

- Updated guidance for pregnancy advised expectant mothers with suspected or confirmed coronavirus to attend an obstetric unit for birth

- The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the hours which deliveries can be made to supermarkets and other food retailers will be extended to help the industry respond

- Independent London mayoral candidate Rory Stewart criticised the Government's "half-hearted measures" in response to the outbreak

- Tedros Ghebreyesus, director of the World Health Organisation (WHO), told reporters the global spread of Covid-19 made a pandemic threat "very real"

- Aintree University Hospital said it remained open although a staff member tested positive for Covid-19 after returning from a holiday in Italy

- The France vs Ireland Six Nations rugby match due to be held in Paris on Saturday was postponed on the advice of national authorities

- All St Patrick's Day parades in the Republic of Ireland are to be cancelled in a bid to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Read more: Family self-isolated due to 'people’s fears' over coronavirus

Italian premier Giuseppe Conte has put his entire country on lockdown to combat the coronavirus, banning all but the most important travel and halting social gatherings after Italians failed to take previous warnings to heart amid skyrocketing infections.

Two days after imposing the same strict measures on a quarter of the country, in the hard-hit north, Mr Conte urged all 60 million Italians to stay home.

The only travel allowed will be for proven work reasons, health conditions or other cases of necessity.

"Our habits must be changed, changed now. We all have to give up something for the good of Italy. When I speak of Italy, I speak of our dear ones, of our grandparents and of our parents," Mr Conte said.

"We will succeed only if we all collaborate and we adapt right away to these more stringent norms."

The nationwide restrictions take effect on Tuesday until April 3 and include extending the closures of schools and universities and closing bars, restaurants and cafes at dusk.

Read more: ‘Don’t die, please buy’ Glasgow newsagent sells out entire stock of coronavirus face masks

Mr Conte took to task young people who continued to gather socially as the virus spread, saying "this nightlife ... we can't allow this any more".

Italy registered 1,807 more confirmed cases as of Monday evening, for a national total of 9,172. The number of dead in Italy increased by 97 to 463 - most of them elderly people with previous ailments.