Government plan for tackling coronavirus published

Author: Ingrid Torjesen

Retired doctors and nurses could be drafted into the NHS to help out if the NHS becomes overwhelmed with cases and healthcare workers become infected themselves under the government’s plan for tackling an escalation of coronavirus cases in the UK.

It is predicted that a fifth of workers would be absent during the peak of the epidemic which experts predict the UK will not hit for two or three months.

In that event pressures may become "significant and clearly noticeable" including delays to non-urgent NHS care and the police who may have to drop low priority cases.

“As NHS/HSCNI staff also start to become affected, and more seriously ill patients require admission, clinicians may recommend a significantly different approach to admissions. Some non-urgent care may be delayed to prioritise and triage service delivery. Staff rostering changes may be necessary, including calling leavers and retirees back to duty,” the government’s plan says.

In order to contain the spread of the virus, police and medical professionals may be given the power to detain people suspected of being infected, and the army may be drafted in to help police and other civil authorities if pressures become too much and their assistance is needed.

The 28-page plan, launched as the number of UK cases hit 51, lays out the government’s strategy in four strands: contain, delay, research and mitigate. It aims to contain the outbreak for as long as possible by detecting early cases, follow up close contacts, and then slow the spread to push the peak impact away from the winter season. This will mean that NHS services will not also be coping with winter flu cases, but will buy time to prepare for the situation and enable research to better understand the virus, and the actions that will lessen its effect on the UK population.

To slow the spread, the government is reiterating that people need to practice good hygiene particularly frequent handwashing and self- isolate if experiencing symptoms, and using distancing strategies, such as encouraging an increase in home working. Other distancing measures could include closures of schools and other education establishments and reducing the number of large-scale gatherings such as sporting fixtures, but the government will balance the need for society and business to function as normally as possible.

Unveiling the plan prime minister Boris Johnson said: “It is highly likely that we will see a growing number of UK cases. And that’s why keeping the country safe is the government’s overriding priority. And our plan means we’re committed to doing everything possible based on the advice of our world leading scientific experts to prepare for all eventualities.”

He added: “The plan does not set out what the government will do, it sets out the steps we could take at the right time along the basis of the scientific advice.”

At this stage, Johnson stressed “for the vast majority of the people of this country, we should be going about our business as usual” and “for the overwhelming majority of people who contract the virus, this will be a mild disease from which they will speedily and fully recover.”