Up to 10,000 people will be swabbed a day
The death toll in Britain rose to six yesterday after a man in his early 80s died at Watford General Hospital. Some 382 cases have been confirmed and Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jenny Harries said “many thousands” more will be struck down within days.
Cases in the UK are set to peak within a fortnight at which point the Government will order people to place themselves in quarantine.
Dr Harries said: “We will have significant numbers in a way which I think the country is not used to, so large numbers of the population will become infected.
“Within 10 to 14 days we will be likely to advise people with symptoms to self-isolate and we are expecting the start of the peak to come during that period.”
PHE has processed more than 25,000 tests since the outbreak began. NHS hospital laboratories are now being drafted in to increase capacity in anticipation of soaring demand. Ten NHS microbiology services have already made preparations to run more tests than usual and NHS pathology services will do so in the coming weeks.
Coronavirus swabbing kit
Seven regional co-ordination centres are also being set up to get results back to people as quickly as possible.
The vast majority of tests will continue to be turned around within 24 hours and people who test positive will be prioritised.
Professor Dame Sue Hill, NHS Chief Scientific Officer for England, said: “The NHS is ramping up the number of testing centres across the country, to help people get care quickly, or have their mind put at ease.
“The public can help us to help the country to stay safe by practising good hygiene and washing their hands more often, for at least 20 seconds.”
Samples are being collected from people in their homes, in coronavirus pods, at GP surgeries, on hospital wards and at drive-thru centres.
Swabs are taken from the patient’s nose, throat or lungs. In some cases, blood or stool samples are needed.
Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the National Infection Service, Public Health England, said: “Wider testing is important as it will help to manage demand as the number of people being tested increases in the coming weeks.
“This will ensure that PHE and the NHS have the most robust system possible to understand what is happening with the virus.”
But there is growing concern the epidemic crippling Italy could be seen here. The country is now on lockdown with the death toll standing at 631.
Professor Giacomo Grasselli, who is leading the intensive care response in the worst hit Lombardy region, said: “The only way to win this battle is to change the behaviour of people.
“They have to stay at home, they have to avoid crowded places, they have to wash their hands.” British Airways cancelled all 60 flights to and from Italy, later extending the ban until April 4.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said deliveries to supermarkets and retailers could now be made around-the-clock to prevent shortages sparked by panic buying.
And Downing Street said that authorities had the power to order people to self-isolate if they refused to follow “sensible” advice to maintain public health.
At Buckingham Palace, the Queen did not shake hands with Sri Lankan High Commissioner Saroja Sirisena and her husband Dr Sudath Talpahewa.
A middle-aged woman dpns a mask
Health chiefs last night paid tribute to the hardworking doctors and nurses on the frontline of the battle to stop the virus.
Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England, said: “Nurses, midwives, doctors and hundreds of thousands of other NHS employees are already working around the clock responding and preparing as the coronavirus spreads. I’m sure Daily Express readers will want to join me in thanking them and all other NHS staff for the hard work, professionalism and courage they have shown.”
For most people coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms like a fever or cough, but for some, including the elderly and those with underlying health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, said: “We expect the numbers to increase initially quite slowly but really quite fast after a while and we have to catch it before the upswing begins.
A regular sight on the London Underground
“We are now very close to the time, probably within the next 10 to 14 days, when the modelling would imply we should move to a situation where everybody with even minor respiratory tract infections or a fever should be self-isolating for a period of seven days.”
●More than half of local authorities across England now have confirmed cases of coronavirus.
Public Health England is releasing a daily tally of cases broken down regionally.