Britain will isolate older people “within weeks” and force into quarantine anyone diagnosed with coronavirus, the government said as it stepped up measures that have so far been less stringent than elsewhere in Europe.
The British Heath Secretary Matt Hancock said people aged over 70 would be shielded from the virus by self-isolating for up to four months, with an announcement “in the coming weeks”.
Britain has taken a distinctly different approach to tackling coronavirus from European countries such as Italy, Spain and France which have imposed stringent lockdowns to try to slow the spread of the disease.
“We will be setting it out with more detail when it’s the right time to do so because we absolutely appreciate that that is a very big ask of the elderly and the vulnerable and it’s for their own self-protection,” he told Sky News on Sunday.
The government will legislate this week to force people into quarantine if they are diagnosed with the virus, he said, and was also ready to ban mass gatherings.
“We are going to take the powers to make sure that we can quarantine people if they are a risk to public health,” Hancock said. “I doubt we will need to use it very much because people are being very responsible and people need to be responsible.”
Britain is aiming to delay the peak of infection to prevent health services from being overwhelmed when they are less able to cope.
Britain had 1,140 confirmed cases and 21 deaths from coronavirus, against 21,157 cases and 1,441 deaths in Italy, 6,391 cases and 196 deaths in Spain and 4,469 cases and 91 deaths in France as of 0200 GMT on March 15.
Stop At Nothing
Hancock said Britain’s approach was underpinned by scientific evidence, which it would publish in the coming days, and it was aimed solely at saving lives.
“We will stop at nothing to fight this virus and I think people have got the impression otherwise,” he told the BBC.
The concept of herd immunity - where the virus spreads through the population to increase overall resistance - was not part of the government’s strategy, he added.
Britain has called for a national effort to tackle coronavirus similar to the one which helped it survive the Second World War
“Our generation has never been tested like this,” Hancock wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. “Our grandparents were, during the Second World War, when our cities were bombed during the Blitz.
“Today our generation is facing its own test, fighting a very real and new disease. We must fight the disease to protect life.”
The government is asking manufacturers to retool production lines to start producing more ventilators, and could turn some hotels into hospitals to take coronavirus patients who cannot be treated in overstretched public hospitals.