In the past week public awareness and concern around the Coronavirus has risen sharply as governments around the world including the UK have taken some dramatic steps to dampen the spread of the disease in order to reduce the peak of infection and ensure that our NHS is able to cope with an expected increase in cases.
This disease has been monitored closely since the first outbreaks in China towards the end of last year and the Government has been working for months to put in place plans first to contain the disease and then to delay it and mitigate the effects. It has now become a global pandemic.
In most cases the symptoms are similar to flu with a fever and cough which lasts for up to a week and, like flu, in the overwhelming majority of cases people are able to fight it off. The reason there has been so much concern about it is because it is a new virus and, unlike most flu outbreaks, there is therefore no natural immunity within the population so nothing to check its spread. Unless steps are taken now to delay the transmission of the disease there is a risk that the NHS will be placed under considerable pressure.
So in the last week we have issued guidance to everyone that if they show symptoms of fever and a cough, even if those symptoms are mild, that they should stay at home. We have also said that where a member of a household shows symptoms of the disease then the whole family should try to self-isolate and stay at home to avoid the risk of onward transmission and there is wider advice to the whole population to try to reduce social contact by avoiding large gatherings, by working from home where that is possible and avoiding too much social contact for the time being. People should also wash their hands longer and more frequently which can have a significant impact if we all do it.
There will be significant impacts on the global economy from this pandemic and the Chancellor has stepped in this week with a package of emergency measures to support businesses facing severe disruption. The tourism industry will see severe disruption over Easter.
The most important thing is for people to remain calm and work together as we tackle this disease. Last weekend there were a few isolated cases around London of individuals being inconsiderate and aggressive to staff at supermarkets who were working to try to restock shelves following an increase in demand. The food supply chain is resilient and able to cope with sharp increases in demand as it does every Christmas and there is plenty of food for everyone if people are considerate.
It will also be important in the weeks and months ahead that we all look out for one another, helping elderly neighbours by doing a shopping run for them, or walking their dog if they are staying at home and keeping in touch with family and friends by phone. Once the initial shock over the Coronavirus has settled we all need to pull together to get through it.