Coronavirus: What next in the UK coronavirus fight?

By Nick Triggle
Health correspondent

  • Published
Laboratory workerImage source, Getty Images

Coronavirus is spreading in the UK and the government is seeking ways to minimise its spread.

Without drastic measures - which could be in place for weeks, or even months - it is feared that more than 250,000 people could die.

What steps should I take?

All members of the public should reduce the time they spend with others:

  • Everyone should stop non-essential contact with others. This is particularly important for people over 70, those with underlying health conditions and pregnant women
  • People should work from home if they can
  • Cafes, pubs and restaurants are being closed from Friday night - except for take-away food - to tackle coronavirus
  • People should stop all unnecessary travel
  • Those most at risk - about 1.5 million who've had organ transplants, have severe respiratory conditions or some cancers - should not go out for 12 weeks, and will be given essential supplies if they don't have a support system of their own

Everyone should continue to regularly wash their hands and avoid contacting the NHS unless it's essential.

The strongest warnings are in place for those who are ill and the people close to them:

  • Anyone with a fever or persistent cough should stay at home for seven days
  • Anyone who lives with someone displaying coronavirus symptoms should also stay at home for 14 days. People who have to isolate themselves should ask others for help

How has the UK's strategy changed?

The government's thinking has changed quickly.

It started off trying to contain coronavirus by isolating people who tested positive and asking anyone who had close contact with them to self-isolate too.

Ministers then introduced policies to delay and reduce the peak, when the most cases are expected.

The idea was that by pushing it back to the summer it would allow the NHS to cope.

But modelling from Imperial College London prompted a change in approach.

It warned the policy of a managed spread could lead to more than 250,000 deaths, with hospital intensive care units getting overwhelmed.

Ministers are now seeking to suppress the spread completely.

They hope this will keep deaths below 20,000.

How long could the restrictions be in place?

We are in uncharted territory - so it is impossible to tell.

However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suggested that "we can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks".

But the problem with trying to suppress the virus is that as soon as you lift those measures the fear is it could quickly return.

One option from experts advising the government is to go through a cycle of lifting and reapplying restrictions, using demand on intensive care as a guide.

There will be close attention paid to China, which is now looking at how it lifts restrictions.

It is not realistic to think that if you temporarily break the spread of coronavirus it will go away.

Then you have to consider the social and economic factors at play.

Businesses are going to struggle and people are going to lose their jobs.

And how long are the public going to put up with being told they cannot go out, need to work from home and can no longer watch sport or go to festivals?

It leaves the government with some very difficult decisions to take.

What about the NHS? Can it cope?

The whole of the NHS has been put on an emergency footing. From mid-April all routine operations, such as knee and hip replacements, are being cancelled for three months.

Hospitals have plans to keep coronavirus patients separate and supply staff with protective masks and suits.

All hospital patients with flu-like symptoms are being tested.

Patients with mild symptoms - a high temperature or new and persistent cough - are being asked to self-isolate at home. Community teams will keep an eye on them if need be.

But people are being advised not to ring NHS 111 to report their symptoms unless they are worried.

How will the NHS treat seriously ill patients?

Currently there is no treatment or cure, so hospitals are trying to relieve the symptoms.

Specialist ECMO breathing equipment is at five units for patients whose lungs fail.

There are between 4,000 and 5,000 intensive care beds.

But NHS officials said they can effectively increase that to between 11,000 and 12,000 by using ventilators reserved for planned surgery and those available in the private sector, Ministry of Defence, new ones being made and old stocks that are no longer used.

Ministers are also working with private companies to ramp up production.

A third of patients who need hospital care require intensive care support, evidence from China and Italy suggests.

Doctors warn that some difficult decisions may need to be made about which patients get treatment.

Image source, BBC

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