An action plan to deal with a possible major coronavirus outbreak in the UK has been outlined by the government.
So what will happen and is the NHS well prepared?
Could schools close and public gatherings be banned?
- School closures. It also hopes to pass new laws to allow bigger class sizes if there are teacher shortages
- Restrictions on the use of public transport
- The stopping of big gatherings
- Troops supporting the emergency services
- Police focusing on the most serious crimes and maintaining public order
- New legal powers to make people stay in quarantine
A public information campaign will be launched to help people protect themselves. The main focus will be on regular and thorough hand washing.
When could these powers be used?
The government’s emergency Cobra committee – made up of ministers, civil servants and officials – is coordinating the response.
Exactly what steps are taken will depend upon the severity of the outbreak.
Drastic steps such as closing schools would have major social and economic consequences.
Because of this, ministers have stressed the need not to over-react.
It is also virtually impossible to stop all social contact.
As such, measures designed to stop people mixing may be most likely when there are local outbreaks.
This could be in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus and limit the number of cases ahead of an expected peak.
Is the NHS ready for coronavirus?
A fifth of the UK workforce could be off sick during the peak weeks of a major outbreak, the government says.
It believes there could be an increase in deaths, especially among elderly people and those with pre-existing conditions such as heart or lung problems and diabetes.
The NHS has detailed plans to cope with outbreaks of disease and surges in demand.
There are about 30 hospitals on stand-by to take patients – although most of the UK cases so far have been taken to one of five specialist hospitals in England.
Every hospital has been told to set up isolation pods in case patients arrive with the virus. These are not to treat patients, but to ensure they do not mix with other patients and staff when they arrive.
Patients are being advised to contact NHS 111 in England and self-isolate – the rest of the UK has its own arrangements. People who are worried they may have coronavirus should not go to A&E, or their GP.
How will the NHS treat seriously ill patients?
Currently there is no treatment or cure, so hospitals are trying to relieve the symptoms.
Specialist equipment called ECMO – which helps with breathing – is available at a small number of units for the most severely ill patients if their lungs fail.
In the worst-case scenario of widespread transmission in the UK – an epidemic – the 30 hospitals could start cancelling routine treatments to prioritise coronavirus patients.
Assessments will be made about which patients can be advised to stay at home and isolate themselves. At the moment all cases are being admitted to hospital.
This is being done to help contain its spread and help doctors learn more about the virus. The illness caused by the virus for many seems to be mild and passes.
Can coronavirus be contained?
Public Health England officials have said widespread transmission of coronavirus in the UK is “highly likely” in the coming weeks and months.
But they are still working on containing its spread. That involves tracing people who have had close contact with infected people and getting them to self-isolate.
This will continue until there are significant outbreaks in a number of areas of the country.
Even if containment fails, it could buy the UK valuable time.
If an epidemic can be delayed until late spring, or even the summer, the milder weather will help as the NHS would not be under so much pressure.
It also gives scientists more time to learn more about the virus and, hopefully, be a step closer to developing a vaccine.
What questions do you have about the UK’s coronavirus plans?
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