Coronavirus: Isolation for over-70s ‘within weeks’

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Elderly could be quarantined for four months in ‘wartime-style’ mobilisation to combat coronavirus

Every Briton over the age of 70 will be told “within the coming weeks” to stay at home for an extended period to shield them from coronavirus, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

He told the BBC the advice will not come into force just yet but when it does it will last “a very long time”.

It comes as 14 more people have died in the UK after testing positive for the virus, bringing total deaths to 35.

Manufacturers will be asked to make extra NHS ventilators, Mr Hancock said.

Over-70s – and younger people with certain health conditions – will need to remain at home and have groceries and vital medication delivered, the health secretary said.

Isolating the elderly is “clearly in the action plan” Health Secretary Matt Hancock has told Sky News, confirming earlier reports in the British media. “We will be setting it out with more detail when it’s the right time to do,” he added, which may come within weeks.

“We absolutely appreciate that it is a very big ask of the elderly and the vulnerable, and it’s for their own self-protection,” Hancock told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge.

Earlier ITV’s political editor Robert Peston said the British government was likely to enforce a “wartime-style” mobilisation effort and other emergency measures, including isolation of elderly people.

Other measures already being planned include:

  • the forced requisitioning of hotels and other buildings as temporary hospitals;
  • the requisitioning of private hospitals as emergency hospitals;
  • temporary closure of pubs, bars and restaurants – some time after next weekend’s ban on mass gatherings;
  • emergency manufacture by several companies of respirators that would be necessary to keep alive those who become acutely ill;
  • the closure of schools for perhaps a few weeks, but with skeleton staff kept on to provide childcare for key workers in the NHS and police.

Britain has 1,140 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 disease, with the death toll standing at 21. Elderly people have shown to be more vulnerable to the virus, as they are more likely to develop serious symptoms.

The British government has been criticized for its response to the coronavirus epidemic, which seems to be focused on building up “herd immunity,” rather than restraining the spread of the virus.

The plan to have elderly people isolated for months is a testament to the toll that the Tory governments’ measures had on the NHS. It also subjects them to increased risks of depression and other problems, some critics say.

The UK has been relatively modest in taking steps like banning mass gatherings, closing schools or restricting travel compared to other countries combating the epidemic. The rationale is that tougher controls will be needed when there are more cases in the country, and that imposing them now would be less efficient because people would not observe them for long.

The approach was blasted in an open letter from dozens of scientists, who said postponing “social distancing” measures was not a viable option and that it would only result in overwhelming the British healthcare system.

The Scottish government has set out its interpretation of the strategy, saying it had no plans to isolate the elderly, but would instead “ask them to reduce social contact”.

Jeane Freeman, Mr Hancock’s counterpart in Scotland, said: “We don’t want people who are elderly to be stuck in their homes alone not contacting anyone, with their families not able to be in touch with them and to help them.

“What we’re saying to them is, reduce your contact.”

Stay at home if you have coronavirus symptoms

Stay at home for 7 days if you have either: a high temperature – you feel hot to touch on your chest or back a new, continuous cough – this means you’ve started coughing repeatedly

Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.

You do not need to contact 111 to tell them you’re staying at home.

Testing for coronavirus is not needed if you’re staying at home.

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