In a sombre news conference in Downing Street, Boris Johnson has warned that coronavirus is causing the ‘worst public health crisis for a generation’ and that many families will lose loved ones before their time. Flanked by the chief scientific adviser and chief medical officer he announced a new series of measures including that people with fever or a persistent cough should self-isolate for a week. However, the UK will not be shutting schools or banning flights.
Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, explained that the aim is to try and delay the peak of the disease and then stretch it out over a longer period so the NHS is better able to deal with it. Vallance said that the UK was four weeks behind Italy in terms of the crisis and that the peak is still 10 to 14 weeks away. (This implies that Italy – where the hospitals are already horribly stretched – is still someway off its peak).
Chris Witty, the chief medical officer, stressed that one of the reasons the UK was not moving to more dramatic measures – for example, telling all old people to self-isolate – was that if the UK moved now, then the public would tire of that at just the wrong moment. Some people argue that people will be happy to do whatever it takes to avoid this virus. But staying home for three months is no small thing and it is not hard to believe that people would tire of this in time.
As other countries move into lockdown or shut schools, there’ll be increasing questions about why the UK is not doing the same. But it is clear that the government takes the view that the most effective way to flatten the peak of this virus is not to move into lockdown yet.