Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that the government decision not to cancel public events as part of its delay phase tactics to stem the outbreak was “concerning”.
Mr Hunt, who now chairs the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, told BBC Newsnight that the UK was in a "national emergency" and suggested the government's new approach did not go far enough.
Asked about the decision not to cancel large gatherings yet, he said: "I think it is surprising and concerning that we're not doing any of it at all when we have just four weeks before we get to the stage that Italy is at.
"You would have thought that every single thing we do in that four weeks would be designed to slow the spread of people catching the virus."
Much of Italy - the world's worst-hit country after China - is currently in lockdown as the country's tally of deaths has topped 1,000.
Mr Hunt, said he was also "personally surprised that we're still allowing external visits to care homes".
He added that the evidence from countries who appeared to have been successful in turning back the virus showed they "moved very early" on introducing social distancing.
However many care homes are taking unilateral action and asking friends and relatives to stay away.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said it was crucial to get the timing right for stricter measures. The Department for Health and Social Care says that in the coming weeks, further social distancing measures for older and vulnerable people, will be introduced asking them to self-isolate regardless of symptoms.
“If we introduce this next stage too early, the measures will not protect us at the time of greatest risk but could have a huge social impact. We need to time this properly, continue to do the right thing at the right time, so we get the maximum effect for delaying the virus. We will clearly announce when we ask the public to move to this next stage.
“Our decisions are based on careful modelling.
“We will only introduce measures that are supported by clinical and scientific evidence.”
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the time was right to move to the delay stage, “It is vital if we are to protect the NHS during what could be the greatest challenge in its history. Some of this is about giving us more time to prepare, more time to test procedures and do everything we can to prepare for very large number of patients who will need care and support.
Mr Dickson said the good news was that understanding of the virus was growing which should help the NHS predict how it will behave, better protect staff and improve frontline interventions, such as making best use of protective equipment.
“Plenty of challenges remain especially making sure we have the professional and other staff to tackle the pandemic. Again the response already from the NHS frontline has been terrific – our flexibility as a service has to be a key strength.
“And of course it is not just the NHS – the government must make sure social care services are supported as well as the critical army of family carers.
“We will want to see funds released when they are needed, as promised by the chancellor in the Budget, and that must include social care. We are also calling on the Care Quality Commission to call an immediate temporary halt to its inspections so that staff can focus their energies on preparing to fight this unprecedented challenge.”
Image of Jeremy Hunt (cropped), courtesy of UK Parliament (CC BY 3.0)