The UK is now in the 'delay' phase of coronavirus action plan - here's what that means

Thursday, 12th March 2020, 4:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 12th March 2020, 4:12 pm
Boris Johnson held a press conference during a Cobra meeting on Monday (Getty Images)
Boris Johnson held a press conference during a Cobra meeting on Monday (Getty Images)

The UK has moved onto the next stage of its response to the coronavirus outbreak as experts and politicians accepted it could no longer be contained.

The shift, which could see restrictions imposed in an effort to delay the spread of the disease, was confirmed by Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon following a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee chaired by Boris Johnson.

The move comes a day after the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that the novel strain of coronavirus was a global pandemic.

What did Nicola Sturgeon say?

Ms Sturgeon said: "The decision has been taken that we have now moved from a contain phase into the delay phase where the objective is to seek to slow down the spread of the virus, to reduce the numbers who will be infected at the peak, the number infected at any one time."

From Friday, anyone with symptoms indicative of coronavirus should self-isolate for seven days, she said.

From Monday, mass gatherings in Scotland are set to be restricted as Ms Sturgeon said it is "inappropriate that we continue as normal".

She acknowledged the move, which will apply to some events involving crowds of 500 or more, will "not have a significant impact on the spread of the virus" but it will ease pressure on frontline emergency services.

What would moving to delay mean?

Once the new phase of delay is triggered, officials are likely to offer new advice for elderly and vulnerable people to start “social distancing”. There may also be a recommendation for more people to work at home.

Measures such as school closures and banning public gatherings, two major steps of the delay phase set out in the Government’s coronavirus action plan last week, may not yet be given the go ahead, but will come under consideration.

By delaying the spread of the disease until the warmer months it is hoped that the government can reduce the risk of overlapping with seasonal flu.

It would also by time for the testing of drugs and the development of vaccines.

What is COBRA and when are meetings called?

The name stands for “Cabinet Office Briefing Room A” and refers to the emergency council which is formed when a crisis arises which will call for various different departments to work in tandem.

They meet in the Cabinet Office's briefing rooms (usually room A), hence the name.

The idea is to convene all the relevant parties at once to make rapid, effective action possible. In America, the Situation Room provides roughly the same function.

Having originally been formed in response to the miner's strike in 1972, past COBRA meetings have also been called to deal with issues like the fire-fighters' strike, terrorist attacks across Europe and the US, and the Novichok poisoning case.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But.similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Should I avoid public places?

Most people who feel well can continue to go to work, school and public places and should only stay at home and self isolate if advised by a medical professional or the coronavirus service.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

When to call NHS 111NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.