The Prime Minister has warned “many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time” as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Boris Johnson described the spread of Covid-19 as “the worst public health crisis for a generation” as all four nations of the UK moved to the second so-called “delay phase” of tackling the outbreak.
Appearing alongside the PM at Downing Street, Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK Government’s chief scientific adviser, said the actual number of people infected in the UK at the moment could be between 5000 and 10,000.
Official figures are that 590 people UK-wide have contracted the disease, with ten deaths, while 60 of those infected are in Scotland.
The Prime Minister reiterated the new official guidance that anyone with coronavirus symptoms, however mild, such as a persistent cough or high temperature, must now stay at home for seven days.
He also hinted at future measures which could see anybody living with in a household where somebody is taken ill could be told to stay at home for a week.
Johnson said school trips abroad should be stopped, while people over 70 with serious medical conditions should not go on cruises.
But the PM echoed earlier comments from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that there is no need to close schools just now as the scientific advice “is that this could do more harm than good”.
Sturgeon had said school closures could put even more strain on frontline services due to parents having to leave work to look after their children.
Both leaders’ public addresses came after a Cobra meeting on Thursday afternoon where the devolved and UK governments agreed to move to the second phase of the coronavirus plan, which aims to slow the virus’ spread.
It comes after the FTSE 100 has closed the day down by more than 10% over coronavirus fears among investors – the index’s worst hit since 1987.
The Prime Minister said: “We’ve all got to be clear, this is the worst public health crisis for a generation.
“Some people compare it to seasonal flu; alas, that is not right.
“Due to the lack of immunity this disease is more dangerous.
“It is going to spread further and I must level with you, I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”
He said there was a need to delay the spread of Covid-19 to “minimise the suffering” and reduce the impact on the NHS.
Johnson said the Government was “considering the question of banning major sporting events” but had not yet opted to do so.
He said the evidence suggests it will “have little effect on the spread” of coronavirus, though such events did place a burden on public services.
Citing that burden on services, the First Minister is taking a different approach in Scotland, banning public gatherings of 500 people or more from Monday onwards, such as sporting events and concerts.