Mar 12, 2020 - World

Boris Johnson: "Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time"

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a sober address Thursday on his country's response to the coronavirus, saying "many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time."

The big picture: Johnson said the world was now facing "the worst public health crisis in a generation." His science advisers said the country was now moving from the "contain" phase to the "delay" phase — trying to spread the outbreak over a longer period and protect those most at risk of dying.

What he's saying: "Some people compare it to seasonal flu, alas that is not right. Owing to the lack of immunity, this disease is more dangerous," Johnson said. "It's going to spread further."

  • He said the true number of cases was "higher, perhaps much higher" than what had been confirmed through testing.
  • He asked that anyone experiencing a "new, continuous cough" or a high temperature remain at home for seven days.
  • Johnson did not announce cancellations of large public events like sports games, but he said that step could be taken soon. He was challenged by reporters on why he was not following other countries in taking such steps.

Experts who spoke after Johnson made several key points:

  • The peak of the epidemic is likely several weeks away, and the goal is less to minimize the number of cases than to ensure that they're spread over a longer period of time so the health system can cope.
  • Schools are not being closed at this time. That's in part because they would have to be closed for 13–16 weeks to be truly effective in slowing transmission — during which time kids would be playing with one another and even staying with grandparents who might be at risk — and re-opening schools once the outbreak was at its most severe could be a risk.
  • The U.K.'s chief medical officer said taking steps like banning public gatherings "too early" could mean "people's enthusiasm runs out too early," and they're less compliant once the outbreak has grown more severe.
  • He also said the U.K. no longer needed to identify every case. People with mild symptoms who were remaining at home "do not need testing," he said. Seven days after symptoms surfaced, people would almost certainly no longer be contagious, he added.
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