The death of 10 more coronavirus patients across the UK on Saturday and a surge in the number of people confirmed to have been infected prompted Boris Johnson to announce radical plans for a “national effort” to tackle the epidemic.
After the UK death toll nearly doubled in 24 hours, the prime minister is to urge manufacturers to step up production of new ventilators and other medical equipment to prepare for increased pressure on the NHS.
In a conference call with firms on Monday, Mr Johnson will confirm that the government is to buy up stocks of the new equipment.
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The partnership between the public and private sectors will also extend to hospitals, with the negotiations between the NHS and private health firms to boost capacity. Downing Street indicated that the NHS would pay for access to beds in private hospitals.
In another unprecedented move, people aged over 70 will be told to stay at home for four months under one proposal likely to be introduced within the next 20 days, according to ITV News.
It came as hundreds of scientists warned the government that their response to the coronavirus epidemic is “risking many more lives that necessary”.
In an open letter published on Saturday night, more than 295 academics living and working in the UK backed calls for immediate measures to restrict the spread of Covid-19. They criticised the UK’s strategy of delaying restrictions in a bid to achieve ”herd immunity”, arguing that it would put the NHS under even more stress.
It follows the latest guidance from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) that household isolation would soon be needed to ”shield the vulnerable”.
Mr Johnson had come under increasing pressure to announce more restrictive steps to halt the spread of Covid-19, after France and Spain both announced partial lockdowns.
The government indicated it was preparing to introduce new measures to ban mass gatherings next week, followed by the closure of schools, pubs and restaurants.
All 10 patients who have died since Friday were in “at risk groups”, said England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty. They were being cared for at NHS Trusts in Chester, Buckinghamshire, the West Midlands, Leicester and London.
“I understand this increase in the number of deaths linked to Covid-19 will be a cause of concern for many,” Mr Whitty added.
“The public should know ever measure we are taking is seeking to save lives and protect the most vulnerable.”
As the total number of confirmed cases in the UK rose from 798 to 1,140, it was reported that a mother and her newborn baby had tested postive at North Middlesex Hospital, in Edmonton. Doctors are trying to establish whether the infant was infected during birth or while in the womb.
Two hours after the UK confirmed its largest daily increase in cases, US vice president Mike Pence confirmed the ban on travel to Europe would be extended to the UK and Ireland.
The new restrictions will go into effect on Monday evening at midnight. Chad Wolf, the the acting secretary of homeland security, said Donald Trump made the decision “because of the rising number of coronavirus cases there”. Mr Trump also confirmed he had taken the test for coronavirus and was waiting for the results.
Spain, which has 5,753 confirmed cases and 193 deaths, declared a 15-day state of emergency on Saturday night, effective immediately.
People will only be allowed to leave their homes to buy food and medicine, travel to work, go to medical centres and banks, or care for the young and the elderly. All restaurants, bars, hotels, schools and universities were closed nationwide and Jet2 planes from the UK turned back in mid-air as the airline announced it was cancelling all flights to the country.
Meanwhile France announced that cafes, shops, restaurants and cinemas would be shut down from midnight. Food stores, pharmacies and gas stations were exempted from the closures.
Italy, the worst affected nation outside China, is already under total lockdown in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus which has caused 1,441 deaths and infected at least 21,000 people. Belgium has also closed schools, restaurants and bars as well as cancelled sporting and cultural events.
In China, which first introduced city-wide quarantines on 23 January, the number of daily new cases has continued to fall, with just 11 confirmed infections, 17 suspected infections, and 13 deaths reported for Friday.
Additional reporting by agencies