The UK is moving to the second phase of the government’s four-part plan to tackle the virus, but some aspects of the first phase were still relevant and being followed, England’s chief medical officer (CMO) Professor Chris Whitty has said during questioning by the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee.
The first phase was about containment, which involved identifying and isolating cases, tracing contacts of confirmed cases, and isolating anyone exposed through self-isolation and quarantine measures.
The second phase of the plan is to delay infections so that the peak of infections occur once the weather warms up when the flu season has passed and the NHS will be better placed to cope.
"As time moves by, we then may start to move into the more socially determined actions,” he said.
Potential actions outlined in the government’s plan include encouraging people to work from home and to avoid public transport, banning events that attract lots of people such as sporting fixtures and closing schools.
Whitty told the select committee that modelling suggested that 50% of all cases could come during a three-week period and 95% over a nine-week period.
“If all of those were spaced out on the NHS over two or three years, that would be easily manageable, but it’s the fact they are so heavily concentrated,” he said.
During this period the NHS would be under strain, and while many patients would be treated at home, the NHS could run out of beds, he said, which would affect its ability to treat patients with coronavirus and those with other conditions.
The number of cases in the UK has now passed 90, and at least three of these cases were detected in hospitals under surveillance measures, with patients having no history of travel to affected areas or known contact with a confirmed case.
Whitty told MPs there were “several cases where it is not clear” how the patient had become infected and that it was “highly likely” community transmission of coronavirus is occurring within the UK.
"I think we should work on the assumption it is here, on very low levels, at this point in time - but that I think should be the working assumption on which we go forward from this point onwards," he said.