Action to isolate the UK’s over-70s for an extended period to shield them from coronavirus is planned in the coming weeks, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed.
He told Sky News the measure “is a very big ask of the elderly and vulnerable, but it is for their own protection”.
The government has faced pressure to do more to tackle the epidemic after the UK death toll rose to 21 on Saturday.
All deaths so far have been of people over 60 or with underlying conditions.
The self-isolation measure would mean people being asked to remain at home without visitors and with vital supplies dropped off for them on their doorsteps.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge, Mr Hancock was asked if the advice would be in place for four months as has been reported.
He said: “We’ll be setting it out with more detail when it is the right time to do so.”
But he added the reason the measure has not been implemented yet is the length of time required is “very long”.
The announcement comes as the government’s strategy has been criticised by some scientists, who have written to ministers urging them to introduce tougher measures to tackle the spread of Covid-19.
The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK has reached 1,140, while 37,746 people have been tested.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to urge British companies to join a “national effort” to produce more ventilators and other medical equipment “at speed” to help the NHS deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
He will hold a conference call with industry leaders later on Sunday, Mr Hancock said.
Work is also under way to buy up thousands of private hospital beds to boost NHS capacity should it be needed.
An emergency bill giving the government temporary powers to tackle the outbreak will be published next week.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has asked for “urgent sight” of the draft laws and for a meeting with the prime minister to discuss the crisis.
His party had already called on the government to publish the scientific modelling and data that it is using to form its approach.
Meanwhile, a new public information campaign is to be launched featuring the UK government’s chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty and a voiceover from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy actor Mark Strong.
In other developments:
- The Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel to the whole of Spain after restrictions were put in place by the Spanish government
- Around 600 Britons are among the passengers stranded on a Fred Olsen cruise ship that has been unable to dock in the Bahamas after five people on board tested positive for the coronavirus
- Airlines warned that the UK’s aviation industry may not survive the coronavirus pandemic without emergency financial support
- The US will extend its European coronavirus travel ban to include the UK and Republic of Ireland from 04:00 GMT on Tuesday