Emergency meeting planned for Government to discuss coronavirus crisis
An emergency Government meeting is planned today to discuss strengthening measures to tackle coronavirus.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair the meeting, which could see decisions made on shielding elderly citizens, banning mass gatherings and household isolation.
He will then address the first of the daily press conferences being planned to update the public on Covid-19.
It comes as the Guardian reported on a Public Health England briefing which warned health chiefs the epidemic in the UK could last until next spring and could lead up to 7.9 million people being admitted to hospital.
As the UK death toll reached 35 yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said over-70s could be told to stay home for up to four months within the ‘coming weeks’.
Under the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020, which were passed last month, a person who is required to be kept in isolation can be taken there by a police constable, with the use of ‘reasonable force, if necessary’.
Failure to comply with restrictions, or absconding from isolation, is punishable with a fine of up to £1,000.
Mr Johnson is expected to discuss the isolation proposal, as well as banning mass gatherings and isolating entire households if one member shows symptoms, during the emergency meeting.
The idea of isolating those aged over 70 would ‘consign a particular cohort to misery’, former Sheffield MP and Home Secretary, David Blunkett, said.
Writing in the Daily Mail, he added: “I have real concerns that imposing isolation on the over-70s could be widely misunderstood in the current atmosphere of near panic.
“Just as people have begun to stockpile toilet rolls for no reason, an irrational notion could spread among the public that older people are being ordered to stay inside not for their own protection but because they present some imaginary risk to younger people.”
Mr Johnson will be joined at today’s press briefing by chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
Some in the scientific community have criticised the Government for taking a slower and more relaxed response to the coronavirus pandemic than other countries.
But restrictive measures could be announced today.