Could the coronavirus cause UK cities to be put on lockdown?

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The number of Britons who are confirmed to have COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus, has risen to 40, withconfirmed cases in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

At the moment the government is drawing up plans to contain the spread of the virus and prevent a wider outbreak, though Public Health England has warned that widespread transmission of the disease is “highly likely”.

Professor Paul Cosford said nothing was inevitable but warned that the UK needed to be prepared for the disease to spread to more people and have suitable responses in place.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said the NHS was well prepared to deal with more cases of the coronavirus, insisting that the government will “stop at nothing” to contain the virus.

In the event of a wider spread of the coronavirus then what could the government do to reduce transmission and will there actually be a need for them to?

The Claim

Health secretary Matt Hancock could not rule out the possibility that British cities could be put on lockdown in a manner similar to Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus is thought to have originated from.

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Hancock said the government would not take anything “off the table at this stage”.

The health secretary acknowledged there would be “a huge economic and social downside” to putting cities on lockdown but stressed it could turn out to be a necessary measure and thus he couldn’t rule it out.

If the situation worsens people could be urged to work from home and stay indoors as much as possible, potentially even being confined to their homes to prevent them from spreading the virus.

The introduction of “population distancing measures” is still some way off as the health secretary has said early preventative measures such as closing schools are not yet needed unless there is a confirmed case of the coronavirus.

The government is looking at other means of preventing potential transmissions of the virus, including banning gatherings of large crowds, delaying football matches and encouraging people to stay off public transport.

Closing off cities to prevent the spread of coronavirus is a drastic measure, likely reserved to prevent a worst case scenario. The UK is nowhere near that scenario but the government’s refusal to rule out the possibility means it could happen if things get significantly worse.

The Counter Claim

It should be stressed that the worst case scenario for the UK is a long way off, with the government still in the containment phase of tackling the disease and still hopeful that drastic measures will not be required.

If initial efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the UK are successful then there will be absolutely no need for closing off cities and keeping people in their homes.

The rise in confirmed cases of the virus is not a surprise to scientists, there were always going to be some cases and the government was always going to need to draw up plans for a worst case scenario and be willing to carry them out, even if the chances of it actually happening were almost nil.

Hancock’s four phase plan for the government’s response to the coronavirus is containment, delay, mitigate and research. The UK is still in the first phase and the government is hoping it will stay that way.

To shut down a city and keep the people living within confined to their homes is a dramatic step for a government to take, the spread of the coronavirus in the UK would have to progress significantly for it to be enacted.

If the UK can keep the number of people with the virus low and isolated to prevent transmission to others then there ought to be absolutely no need for cities to close.

The Facts

Official advice to prevent catching and spreading the coronavirus recommends washing hands frequently with soap, while coughing and sneezing should be done into a disposable tissue which should then be thrown away.

Contact with people who are unwell and potentially displaying symptoms of the virus should be avoided and the public are advised not to touch their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

In an attempt to deal with the rising number of patients, Italy has recalled retired medical professionals and sped up the graduation rate for nurses.

Health secretary Hancock confirmed that the UK would do something similar if the situation worsened, with plans in place to bring back retired NHS staff if hospitals begin to struggle with the number of coronavirus cases.

A report into the worst case scenario for the UK predicts up to 80 per cent of the population could contract the coronavirus and half a million people could die, but that would be the absolute worst situation where government attempts to contain or delay the spread of the disease had utterly failed.

Over 11,750 tests for the virus have been conducted on Britons thus far and only 36 have come back positive. For now the government is recommending that people go about their business as normal and remember to wash their hands.

Other countries across Europe have started to introduce population distancing measures. In France any event that would draw a crowd of 5,000 or more has been banned while 11 towns in Italy have been locked down as over 1,000 cases of the virus have been confirmed.

Around the world there have been more than 89,000 cases of the coronavirus in over 50 countries, with over 3,000 deaths as a result. The World Health Organisation raised the risk of the virus to “very high”, stating that an “all-of-government, all-of-society approach” was needed to contain the disease.



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