Elderly people will be asked to self-isolate for up to four months, as the UK escalates its fight against coronavirus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it is a “very big ask”, but it is a measure which is for their own “self-protection”.
He also confirmed that ministers were seeking to give police powers to arrest and forcibly quarantine people who are sick with the virus but are not self-isolating.
“We are going to take the powers to make sure that we can quarantine people if they are a risk to public health, yes, and that’s important,” he told the Andrew Marr Show on the BBC.
“I doubt that actually we will need to use it much, because people have been very responsible.”
In an acknowledgement of the almost wartime measures being introduced, Mr Hancock said the steps are “very, very significant and they will disrupt the ordinary lives of almost everybody in the country”.
The gearing up of the Government’s efforts comes as the UK’s Covid-19 death toll rose on Saturday from 11 to 21, while the number of people testing positive for the disease passed the 1,000 mark.
UPDATE on coronavirus (#COVID19) testing in the UK:
As of 9am on 14 March, a total of 37,746 have been tested:
Across the UK, 21 patients who tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) have sadly died. pic.twitter.com/YEo5QOEGzX
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) March 14, 2020
Mr Hancock said that people aged over 70 will be asked in the coming weeks to self-isolate for up to four months, in order to protect them from the virus.
Asked if that was in the Government’s plan, he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “That is in the action plan, yes, and we will be setting it out with more detail when it is the right time to do so, because we absolutely appreciate that it is a very big ask of the elderly and the vulnerable, and it’s for their own self-protection.”
Pressed on when the measure will be introduced, he said: “Certainly in the coming weeks, absolutely.”
He said coronavirus is “a very significant challenge” that will “disrupt the lives of almost everybody” in the UK.
“The measures that we’re taking, the measures that we’re looking at taking, are very, very significant and they will disrupt the ordinary lives of almost everybody in the country in order to tackle this virus,” he said.
The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will personally urge manufacturers to shift their production lines to build ventilators, as the NHS prepares for a significant increase in cases of Covid-19.
Mr Hancock said: “The thing the NHS needs now more than anything else is more ventilators. We’ve been buying as many as we can but we need to produce more too.”
He said he could not make guarantees that everyone who requires a ventilator will get one, saying: “We don’t make guarantees in healthcare.”
The Health Secretary said a Bill setting out emergency powers to deal with the outbreak will be published on Thursday, and details of what the powers will include will be shared on Tuesday.
Mr Hancock said ministers are yet to make a decision on whether to ban gatherings of over 500 people in the rest of the UK, after Scotland said it would bring in restrictions from Monday.
“We are absolutely ready to do that as necessary,” he said, but he pointed towards a Cobra meeting being held on Monday when asked when the decision will be made.
The Government is in talks with private hospitals about the possibility of taking over beds, in a further sign of the pressures that will face the health service at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak.
Mr Hancock said: “Our generation has never been tested like this.
“Our grandparents were, during the Second World War, when our cities were bombed during the Blitz.
“Despite the pounding every night, the rationing, the loss of life, they pulled together in one gigantic national effort.
“Today our generation is facing its own test, fighting a very real and new disease.”
The increase in activity came after 10 more patients died in England after testing positive for Covid-19, while the US government imposed a travel ban on the UK and Ireland in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Experts on the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) set out the need for extra action to slow the spread of the disease.
The panel advised that the next interventions “will need to be instituted soon”.