Boris Johnson says 'many more families will lose loved ones' as experts believe 10,000 have coronavirus in UK
Boris Johnson has warned the British public that "many more families are going to lose loved ones" as it emerged that as many as 10,000 people in the UK may now have the coronavirus.
The grim-faced Prime Minister spoke out as the Government officially moved from the "contain" to "delay" phase of its attempts to tackle the outbreak.
It means anyone with a persistent cough or high temperature is being advised to stay at home for at least seven days in an attempt to limit the number of people catching the deadly bug.
Schools have also been ordered to cancel all foreign trips for their pupils, while the elderly have been urged not to go on cruises.
However, the Government's emergency Cobra committee stopped short of ordering the mass school closures seen in other countries, or banning large gatherings of people.
Both the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, and the chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said there was virtually no medical benefit to the draconian measures at this stage.
They also warned that, with the likely peak of the outbreak in the UK still up to 16 weeks away, there was a high chance of people becoming "fatigued" by them and ignoring all medical advice.
Addressing a press conference in 10 Downing Street, Mr Johnson described the outbreak as "the worst public health crisis for a generation".
He added: "I must level with you, many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time."
There are officially 590 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, with 10 people having lost their lives to the illness.
But Sir Patrick Vallance told the press conference: "It's much more likely that we've got somewhere between 5 and 10,000 people infected at the moment."
He said that by delaying the tougher measures introduced by other countries, it is hoped that the total number of people who contract the disease will be reduced by up to 25% and the final death tally by up to 30%.
Asked why he was not following the example of nations which have introduced lockdowns of their populations and mass school closures, the Prime Minister said: "The most important test will be to protect our elderly and most vulnerable people during peak weeks, when there is maximum risk of exposure to the disease and when the NHS will be under the most pressure.
"The most dangerous period is not now, but some weeks away."
However, Mr Johnson insisted the situation was under review and that the time may come to close down schools or ban large gatherings.
He added: "Even if things seem tough now, just remember this country will get through this epidemic, just as it has got through many tougher experiences before, if we look out for each other and commit wholeheartedly to a national effort."