PM advises against ‘non-essential’ travel, contact, but no lockdown

London, Mar 16 (efe-epa).- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday urged “everyone” in the United Kingdom to avoid non-essential social contact and stop unnecessary travel, but stopped short of imposing lockdown measures on the country of the kind seen across Europe.

In Italy, the worst-affected country outside of China with over 2,000 deaths, people have been confined to their homes since the start of last week and all non-essential businesses have closed, while Spain has rolled out similar measures restricting people’s movements.

China, the origin of the outbreak, was the first to impose isolation on millions of its citizens as it tried to stem the spread of the deadly COVID-19 disease, which has killed more than 6,500 worldwide.

“It looks as though we’re now approaching the fast growth part of the upward curve, and without drastic action, cases could double every five or six days,” Johnson said at the first of a series of daily briefings, after asking people last week to stay home if they had some of the symptoms of coronavirus.

Thirty-five people have died from it in the UK, up by 14 since Sunday, with 1,543 confirmed cases.

As well as avoiding “non-essential travel” and unnecessary contact with other people, the prime minister urged anyone sharing a household with someone who has a cough or fever to self-isolate for 14 days.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, who joined Johnson for the briefing, said “all gatherings, big or small” must be avoided.

The prime minister explained that the “very draconian” measures were needed now to protect the most vulnerable, namely the elderly, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions.

“It will be necessary to go further,” Johnson warned.

He said that in the coming days, people with certain health conditions will need to be “shielded” from social contact for at least 12 weeks, while the country must move “emphatically away from” mass gatherings, including sport events.

“These measures are overwhelmingly worth it to slow the spread, reduce the peak, save life, minimize suffering, and give the NHS a chance to cope,” the prime minister said.

While the guidelines and recommendations are clear, the United Kingdom has so far gone against taking more severe measures like other countries in Europe, now the epicenter of the outbreak, which originated in China in December.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez declared a nationwide state of alarm on Saturday, ordering the country’s 47 million inhabitants to stay at home except to go to work, to buy medical products and food, to visit medical centers or to care for dependent family members.

Only supermarkets, pharmacies and other shops selling items of primary necessity are open.

French authorities are also mulling similar measures.

But the UK has so far taken a different approach, despite Vallance acknowledging that the country is “three weeks behind where Italy is”, implying a nationwide shutdown must be considered likely.

The government’s chief scientific advisor stressed that the priorities for now were to “suppress the curve (of upward growth of cases) in order to keep it below NHS (National Health Service) capacity so that the NHS can cope, and to shield the most vulnerable and those most likely to get the disease.”

Vallance advised that more measures, including closures of schools, may be necessary further down the line, but insisted they be rolled out at “the right time, in the right way”. EFE


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