The UK is about to introduce coronavirus ‘population-distancing’ measures as hopes of preventing a full-on epidemic fade

People wearing face masks on a street in London on Wednesday. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
  • The UK is set to move into the next phase of its coronavirus action plan, which entails greater “population distancing” measures.
  • Measures under consideration include advising people to stand apart from others and work from home.
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to chair a meeting on Thursday of the government’s emergency Cobra committee, where official decisions are expected to be made.
  • The World Health Organisation on Wednesday declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.
  • There were more than 450 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least eight deaths in the UK as of Thursday.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The UK government is preparing to tell the British public to adopt “population distancing” measures, including working from home and not standing close to others.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to chair a meeting on Thursday of the government’s emergency Cobra committee. A Downing Street spokesman said that a decision to move into the “delay” phase of the UK’s plan for tackling the outbreak is expected.

Measures under consideration include population-distancing strategies such as closing schools, encouraging people to work from home, and banning mass gatherings, according to the government’s plan. The government could also advise people to stand farther apart in public spaces, The Times reported. Measures designed to protect older and vulnerable people could also be introduced.

Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said this week that the UK was also close to advising people with even a minor infection or cough to isolate themselves for a week.

“We are now very close to the time, probably within the next 10 to 14 days, when the modelling would imply we should move to a situation where we say everybody who has even a minor respiratory-tract infection or a fever should be self-isolating for seven days afterwards,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday.

The number of confirmed cases in the UK was at more than 450 on Thursday, with at least eight deaths.

The World Health Organisation on Wednesday declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, said the organisation was “deeply concerned” by the “alarming levels of inaction” by governments across the world.

“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly,” he said. “It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”

He added: “We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”