What The UK's Coronavirus 'Delay' Phase Is Going To Involve

by Isobel Lewis
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With the number of cases of coronavirus in the UK growing every day and the World Health Organisation declaring the situation to be a “pandemic,” Thursday (March 12) saw the UK government announce it would be moving into the "delay" phase of its coronavirus action plan. However, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and UK Prime Minister have taken slightly different approaches.

Back on March 3, Johnson announced his government's initial action plan for battling the spread of COVID-19. This can be broken down into four distinct phases:

  1. Contain
  2. Delay
  3. Research
  4. Mitigate

From March 3 until now, we have been in the "contain" phase. Now we are entering the "delay" phase.

What does the delay phase of the UK coronavirus action plan involve?

Following an emergency Cobra meeting on March 3, Johnson introduced new advice in regards to the "delay phase."

The Prime Minister said that people aged over 70 should not go on cruises, that schools should not take pupils on trips abroad, and that testing for the virus would no longer take place in people’s homes but only in hospitals. In addition, it is now advised that anyone with symptoms indicative of COVID-19 such as a fever or persistent cough should self-isolate for a period of seven days and seek advice from 111 if their condition did not improve after that.

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Many expected Johnson to announce the closure of schools and the banning of mass gatherings, but this did not happen. Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said the UK would not be introducing these kind of social distancing measures yet as it was not the right moment within the pandemic. He explained that there reasoning behind this was, in part, because people would lose enthusiasm to self-isolate if the measures were introduced too soon.

In contrast, an hour so before Boris' announcement, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that gatherings of 500 or more would be banned in Scotland. In addition, Ireland decided to close schools and colleges on Thursday morning.

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When does the UK's coronavirus delay phase start?

The Scottish ban on mass gatherings will come into effect on Monday 15 March. For the rest of the UK, the new "delay phase: guidelines come into effect from Friday March 13.

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Should I be stockpiling ahead of the UK's coronavirus delay phase?

If you’ve been into a British supermarket over the past week, you’ll probably have seen people panicking as they stock up on excessive amounts of toilet paper, hand sanitiser and painkillers.

However, Public Health England have said that there is no need to stockpile, as people in quarantine can still ask friends, family, or neighbours to buy food for them. You can even still get your groceries delivered, provided that you tell the service in advance to leave items on doorsteps.

In fact, stockpiling unnecessarily has had negative impacts, with The Guardian reporting that food banks are running out of milk and other staples due to panic buying. So before you unnecessarily buy 20 rolls of loo roll, spare a thought for the most vulnerable people in our society.

Read our guide on how to shop sensibly, not stockpile, to find out more.

Will shops close during the UK's coronavirus delay phase?

It is not currently known whether UK shops will shut in the coming weeks but, for the moment, they are staying open.

However, it is a measure that was recently adopted by Italy, with the BBC reporting that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that all non-essential companies, including bars, restaurants, and hairdressers will be shut down during its lockdown period.

Can we travel during the UK's coronavirus delay phase?

Many people have questioned whether the UK will follow in the footsteps of the U.S. and introduce a ban on travel, after President Donald Trump declared that most travel from Europe to the U.S. would be banned for a month from March 13.

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On March 11, President Donald Trump banned citizens from 26 European countries (not including the UK and Ireland) from entering the U.S. for a period of 30 days. However, the UK government is not following suit. On Thursday, a No.10 spokesperson said: “It’s not the current position of the UK, based on medical and scientific advice, that we should halt flights.”

However, the government’s advice still states that people travelling back from Wuhan or Hubei in China, Iran, Italy or Daego or Cheongdo in Korea should self-isolate and call 111 for guidance.

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If you or someone you’ve been in close contact with appears to have shown or be showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, visit the NHS website in the UK to find out the next steps you should take or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.