BFF-46 UK virus ‘accelerating’ amid fears country on same path as Italy

301

ZCZC

BFF-46

HEALTH-BRITAIN-VIRUS LEAD

UK virus ‘accelerating’ amid fears country on same path as Italy

LONDON, March 22, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned
Sunday the coronavirus outbreak was “accelerating”, as fears grew that the
crisis in Britain was following the same path as the one devastating Italy.

Johnson’s plea came after latest health department figures showed that 233
people have died from COVID-19 in the UK, with the number of those testing
positive for the virus standing at 5,018.

That death toll mirrors the same figure declared in Italy on March 7. On
Saturday, Rome said that 4,825 people had perished in the country, a third of
the world’s total.

“The numbers are very stark, and they are accelerating,” Johnson said in a
statement ahead of a planned press briefing later in the day.

“We are only a matter of weeks — two or three — behind Italy. The
Italians have a superb health care system. And yet their doctors and nurses
have been completely overwhelmed by the demand.”

Johnson’s warning came amid a growing debate about whether people are
taking warnings to socially distance from each other seriously enough and
whether or not government should enforce stronger restrictions.

The government has outlined emergency legislation to give police, public
health and immigration officers extra powers to contain the outbreak.

London is the city worst affected and Mayor Sadiq Khan told the BBC that
police may have to be given powers to enforce social distancing.

“It’s really important that the police are focused on the priorities that
they’ve got,” he said.

“But clearly, if it is the case that people continue to act in a way
that’s leading to this disease spreading, then those sorts of things will
have to be considered.”

On Friday, Downing Street announced stronger measures to try and combat
the spread, including the closing of bars, pubs and restaurants as fears that
health services could soon be overwhelmed.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky TV on Sunday morning that if the
public did not follow their advice they will “have to consider other
options”.

There were also signs of a political fallout. Downing Street denied a
“highly defamatory” Sunday Times newspaper story that Johnson’s chief
adviser, Dominic Cummings, had initially argued against strict measures to
contain the virus, in an argument summed up as “if that means some pensioners
die, too bad”.

– Most at risk –

The concerns came as authorities in the UK told 1.5 million people most at
risk to stay at home for 12 weeks.

As part of the latest measures to try and protect the vulnerable, the
government advised those with underlying health conditions such as bone or
blood cancers, cystic fibrosis, or who have had an organ transplant to do all
they can to shield themselves from the virus, including confining themselves
at home for a long period.

“People should stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives,” Jenrick
said.

He also said the government would get protective gear to NHS staff on the
frontline “as soon as possible” as fears the virus could be spreading due to
a lack of equipment for medics.

In a further sign of growing concern, environmental and heritage charity
the National Trust said it would close all of its parks and gardens. This
reversed an earlier decision to keep them open during the crisis, because of
fears over social distancing.

BSS/AFP/ARS/2007 hrs