What's Happening With Coronavirus In The UK?

By Bustle UK
Updated:
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This post is updated regularly to reflect the latest news and science around the new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, in the UK.

With every day bringing more cases of COVID-19 across the globe, it’s easy to fall into a state of panic. If you’re worried and want to know more, here’s what’s happening with coronavirus in the UK.

COVID-19 is a new illness from a family of viruses called coronavirus. It originated from animals and the first human cases were noted in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of 2019, Time reports, with the first death recorded on Jan. 9, 2020. The virus has since spread via human-to-human transmission to other countries, with the World Health Organisation classifying it as a “pandemic” on March 11.

With symptoms including coughs, fevers, and breathlessness, COVID-19 will be manageable among most sufferers, but can lead to more serious conditions for elderly people or people with underlying health conditions. Currently, there is no specific treatment for COVID-19, but work to find a vaccine is underway.

How Many People Have Been Diagnosed With Coronavirus In The UK?

The UK risk level for COVID-19 is currently classified as "high." As of March 31, more than 25,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the UK, with at least 1,789 people having died from the disease. Another British man died in Japan on Feb. 28, per the Guardian and a 53-year-old woman died in Bali, it was confirmed on March 11.

On March 25, Clarence House confirmed that Prince Charles had tested positive for COVID-19. The Princes of Wales is displaying mild symptoms “but otherwise remains in good health,” according to BBC News.

On March 27, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced via Twitter that he too had tested positive for the virus. Johnson described his symptoms as “mild” and added that he was self-isolating and working from home. It was later announced that Health Secretary Matt Hancock had tested positive also and that Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty was self-isolating after exhibiting symptoms. Four doctors – Amged El-Hawrani, Adil El Tayar, Habib Zaidi, and Alfa Saadu – have also died as a result of the virus.

On March 30, we finally heard some good news, however, when epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson (whose modelling informed the government’s decision enforce a country-wide lockdown) told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the UK was showing "some early signs of slowing in some indicators." He continued: "[If] we look at the numbers of new hospital admissions today, for instance, that does seem to be slowing down a little bit now. It’s not yet plateaued as the numbers are increasing each day but the rate of that increase has slowed. We see similar patterns in a number of European countries."

On the same day, the UK's Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said at a news conference that social distancing measures were "making a difference." Transmission of coronavirus was thought to be decreasing, which could mean fewer infections, he said. "That shows that it's going up not in an increasing amount but in a constant amount, which may suggest that we're already beginning to see some effect."

Throughout the globe, more than 777,700 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, per the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), and the virus has killed more than 37,000 people. Most of those deaths have occurred in mainland China and Italy, per the New York Post. However, on March 18, China hit a new milestone, with the New York Times stating that the country had reported no new local infections for the first time since the crisis began. It comes after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Europe the new epicentre of the pandemic as, per a statement from the director general of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, it had “more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China.” The worst European outbreak is currently in Italy, where more than 97,000 people have been diagnosed and 10,215 have died.

What Is The UK Government Doing About The Coronavirus?

On March 23, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson put in place the strictest measures seen in the UK since the COVID-19 crisis began. UK residents have been instructed not to leave the house except to exercise once a day, to go to work (if working from home is not an option), to buy essentials like food and medicine or to provide any care needs. Public gatherings of more than two people who are not from the same household are also banned.

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Along with nightclubs, gyms, theatres, and leisure centres, shops selling non-essential goods have now been asked to close too. This includes clothing and electronic shops, hair and beauty salons, markets, leisure facilities, hotels and campsites.

Johnson said these new steps were needed to take the pressure from the NHS. He said: “Without a huge national effort to halt the growth of this virus, there will come a moment when no health service in the world could possibly cope.” These measures will be in place for 3 weeks, and will be reviewed thereafter. Speaking to Sky News on March 25, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove explains, “In three weeks’ time we will be able to say whether or not the path that we’ve followed needs any further intensification, or whether there are one or two of the existing restrictions that may be capable of being lifted.”

In response to the vast number of UK patients expected to be admitted to hospital during the course of this pandemic, a new facility has been step up in London's ExCel centre with 4,000 beds. It has been dubbed the NHS Nightingale and, as announced on March 30, airline cabin crews are now being drafted in to help NHS workers cope with the workload. According to the Guardian, EasyJet has written to 9,000 of its UK-based staff, of whom 4,000 are CPR trained, to invite them to volunteer for further training before helping out at the critical care field hospitals in London, Birmingham, and Manchester. Virgin Atlantic is set to contact 4,000 of its employees to do the same.

Previous to the announcement of a country-wide lockdown, a number of other strict measures had already been put in place. On March 21, the government ordered pubs, clubs, and restaurants to close. On March 18, it was announced that schools would be closing from March 20. All academic-related activities, including GCSE and A Level exams, have been put on hold. The UK exam regulator, Ofqual, and exam boards are now working with teachers to provide grades to students whose exams have been cancelled.

Since early March, the UK government, based on advice from chief scientists and medical personnel, have been encouraging people to practice social distancing and to isolate or quarantine themselves inside their homes if they suspect they have contracted COVID-19, or have been in close contact with someone who may have contracted it. Government advice is to not travel home to quarantine with family, and not to visit elderly or at risk family members.

How Are The UK’s Lockdown Measures Being Enforced?

The lockdown put in place on March 23 will be enforced by the UK police, who will have the power to issue fines (£60 and £120 for second-time offenders) and to disperse any gatherings of more than two people not from the same home. In addition, anyone who refuses to comply and abide by the restrictions can be arrested. Police forces across the country have also set up checkpoints to stop vehicles and check with drivers if their journey is absolutely essential.

What Economic Measures Have The UK Government Put In Place In Response To Coronavirus?

On March 20, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced unprecedented measures to not only protect businesses, but also individuals, facing redundancy, and self-employed individuals who had lost work due to the COVID-19 crisis.

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This included a new job retention scheme that consists of a grant for businesses to help cover wages and avoid redundancies. The grant will cover 80% of the salary of workers (up to £2,500, just above the median income) to help encourage businesses to keep them on their payroll. It will cover the cost of wages backdated to March 1 and will be open for at least three months with options to extend the scheme if needed. Sunak said he expects to have the first grants paid within weeks and most paid by the end of April.

He also added that he would be extending the interest-free period for loans already offered to small businesses to 12 months, and that no business would need to pay any VAT from now until the end of June.

For those who have already been made redundant, Sunak said that Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit would be raised by £1,000 a year in an attempt to support them.

Meanwhile, self-employed people were informed that the next self-assessment tax bill would be deferred until January 2021. And, on March 26, Sunak made further announcements about how self-employed people would be supported during the COVID-19 crisis, stating that they can now apply for a grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month. The money will be paid in a single lump sum, but will not begin to arrive until June at the earliest.

Support for renters via a local council scheme has also been introduced.

There have also been announcements in regards to how self-isolation and sick pay will work. On Feb. 26, Matt Hancock said UK employers have received guidance stating that people who self-isolate are entitled to sick pay, reports the Guardian. On March 4, the Prime Minister announced that people can now receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from the first day of self-isolating, rather than waiting until the fourth day under usual rules. (If you can work from home, you will, of course, receive normal pay.)

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On March 11, Chancellor Sunak confirmed these plans for SSP in the Budget 2020 meeting, stating that anyone who needs to self-isolate due to COVID-19 (even if they don’t have any symptoms) will be paid SSP from the first day they are off work. The Chancellor also announced: “For businesses with fewer than 250 employees, I have decided that the cost of providing Statutory Sick Pay to any employee off work due to coronavirus will, for up to 14 days, be met by the government in full.” You can check your eligibility for SSP here.

When Will A Coronavirus Vaccine Be Available In The UK?

Human trials of the UK’s first vaccine are expected to begin next month (April 2020), according to the Guardian. The trials will be conducted by researchers at Oxford University, led by Professor Sarah Gilbert.

In addition, the government is investing resources in antibody tests that could help indicate which individuals have already had COVID-19 and recovered. On March 19, Boris Johnson said that the government was looking into the possibility of purchasing antibody tests and, on March 24, it was announced that 3.5 million had been bought and that a new facility had been opened in Milton Keynes to test them.

What Other Parts Of UK Life Have Been Affected By Coronavirus?

A vast number of UK events have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Most notably, the release of James Bond: No Time To Die and other multi-million-dollar movies such as The Secret Garden have been delayed and the London Marathon has been postponed until October.

On March 18, the organisers of Glastonbury Festival announced that this year’s event would have to be cancelled, with tickets rolling over to 2021.

On top of that, popular shows like Eastenders have had to reorganise their production schedule as filming is suspended until further notice and formats such as Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and Loose Women are no longer operating with live audiences. Sports shows have also been hugely disrupted as all games have been cancelled or postponed.

The Queen has also cancelled engagements due to the outbreak. A statement given to the Evening Standard read: “As a sensible precaution and for practical reasons in the current circumstances, changes are being made to The Queen’s diary commitments in the coming weeks.” It continued: “In consultation with the Medical Household and Government, Her Majesty’s forthcoming visits to Cheshire and Camden will be rescheduled. Audiences will continue as usual. Other events will be reviewed on an ongoing basis in line with the appropriate advice.”

How Can UK Residents Help Stop The Spread Of Coronavirus?

As of March 23, the UK government and the NHS has asked everyone to stay at home to help stop the spread of COVID-19. If you do need to go outside, you should stay two metres away from other people, the NHS says.

In addition, you should continue to wash your hands with soap and water regularly for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser gel. (Experts have advised not to make your own hand sanitiser gel, though.) You should cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze, and you should put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards.

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How To Help People Affected By The Coronavirus

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.

Contributions from Lauren Sharkey, Rebecca Fearn, Sophie McEvoy, Niellah Arboine, and Isobel Lewis.

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