Last night (Monday 16th March) the government’s plan to tackle the Coronavirus (Covid-19) took a severe turn away from the Delay plan, and took a much stronger position to control the virus.
After fierce condemnation from foreign experts, baffled disbelief from our own non-government experts, and advice from Imperial College London’s scientific modelling that the Delay plan had us on target for a “catastrophe epidemic” of 260,000 deaths, Prime Minister Boris Johnson changed the national measures to a very different form.
We started with the “Contain phase”, which saw suspected infections isolated and tested in their homes or in special facilities after returning from abroad. We then moved on to the “Delay phase”, which intended to slowly allow 80% of the population to contract the virus in the hopes that they would become resistant to it.
It was admitted that many people would die under this plan, but the aim was to maintain the functionality of the NHS and the economy whilst hoping that expansive infection would immunise people against this form of the virus (which would not be valid once it mutates).
The British people roundly ignored this plan to let them become infected and began to prepare, not for a 2 week isolation if they were exposed to a confirmed case, but to self-isolate themselves anyway.
Many of our Elders put themselves into social isolation voluntarily, and this has been followed by those in at risks groups (diabetes, asthma, lung disease, heart conditions, high blood pressure medication, immuno-compromised) immediately took steps to reduce their contact with others.
Events began to be cancelked.
Despite the hoarders stripping the supermarkets of essential items, a lot of the general population are opting to distance themselves socially, rejecting the sacrifices they were asked to make for the Delay phase.
Now their actions are the policy in a new unnamed phase of response. The smothering phase’s intentions are to drive the infection rate down to a very low level by keeping people away from it. This is hoped to limit the death toll to thousands or tens of thousands, instead of hundreds of thousands.
How we then get out of that phase is unknown at this time. Infections will increase if the measures are removed before a) there is a vaccine (estimate of 18 months) or b) further infections are eradicated.
Neither measure is probable. However, each phase of response is a best guess of how to respond at a given time in a very rapidly changing situation, and no response can be without risk or flaw. The virus is new, and what is known and understood about it changes daily. We have to change along with the scientific knowledge and events.
However events unfold after this phase, we are going to be dealing with coronavirus for a very long time.
- Social Distancing – EVERYONE should avoid gatherings and crowded places, including pubs, clubs and theatres. Large gatherings are banned.
- All those who can work from home should do so
- “Unnecessary visits” to friends and relatives in care homes must cease
- Don’t use the NHS unless you absolutely have to. The burden of the virus on the NHS is immense, with every part of it focused on combating Covid-19. Don’t ask for help unless it is more urgent. Use the online NHS help website where possible.
- We have this week to prepare the older and vulnerable for a 12 week isolation, protecting them from all contact. That protective isolation begins on Friday night.
- The self-isolation period has been restored from 7 days back to 14, and extended to everyone within a household. If one person has a persistent cough or a fever, the entire house is on lockdown for 14 days.
- People in isolation should avoid leaving the house “even to buy food or essentials” – but they may leave the house “for exercise and, in that case, at a safe distance from others.”
- Schools will not be closed for the moment, but may, at a later date, close for lessons and remain open only as childcare for essential services.
The vulnerable have been defined by Chief Medical Advisor Professor Chris Whitty as:
- people aged over 70
- pregnant women
- adults with chronic (long term) illnesses and those who would normally be offered the flu vaccine (excluding healthy NHS and school staff, who will be expected to continue working)
State of National Infection
The latest Department of Health figures show the greatest daily rise in infections, with an increase of 171 to 1543 infections. The actual infection level is higher, but people were told to stay in self-isolation and testing stopped occurring for all but the worst cases, occurring only in hospital. That level is unknown due to lack of testing.
The increase is likely to continue getting bigger every day, as has been seen in other countries battling the infection.
Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Advisor, said that the UK is three weeks behind Italy, meaning that we could be in Italy’s position 3 weeks from now. Italy is on complete lockdown across the whole country. It is illegal to travel without a permit, for which the only valid reasons are heading to food, pharmacy, work and hospital. Travel by the infected incurs a jail sentence for manslaughter. The country has also suspended all rent, mortgages, and utility bills. As have Spain and France. The economic measures are the only way to stop every non-wealthy person in the country going insolvent and losing their homes.
In a rare example of inter-party co-operation, emergency legislation related to these measures, and other preparations (such as commandeering increased hospital space), and the budget, will be passed through parliament without opposition, to allow the government to focus on the crisis.
The economic impact of coronavirus has not been addressed. Loss of work, loss of wages, unpaid sick leave, reduction in job availability, cancelled entertainment industry, freelancers losing their work with no fallbacks, and other stoppages of income and opportunity threaten to affect millions, especially the self employed, small businesses and those who cannot work from home. The government has instructed people to avoid public businesses, especially the catering and entertainment industry, but hasn’t ordered them to close. This means that those businesses cannot claim on their insurance, and will both stay open to keep people paid thereby bankrupting themselves, and, if used, provide the conditions to spread the virus. The entire creative industry and catering industry is at risk of collapse. This will have to be addressed by the government fairly rapidly.
Having been asked to publish general medical advice for self-isolating people, we are speaking with a local doctor to provide this. Please keep letting us know what you need, and we will do our best to respond.