Boris Johnson says NHS could be ‘overwhelmed’ by coronavirus as he issues Mother’s Day warning
Boris Johnson is warning people to stay away from their loved ones on Mothers' Day (PA)
Boris Johnson has warned the NHS could be “overwhelmed” by the escalating coronavirus outbreak as he urged Brits to stay away from their loved ones on Mother’s Day.
The Prime Minister issued his starkest statement yet on the impact the disease could have on the health service if measures are not taken to halt its spread.
He said the UK risked becoming like Italy, which now has the highest number of deaths from Covid-19 of any country, as confirmed cases here hit 5,000 and deaths rose to 233.
It comes after Mr Johnson ordered all cafes, pubs, cinemas, restaurants and theatres to close their doors on Friday night.
New advice from public health officials is for 1.5 million of the most medically vulnerable to stay inside for 12 weeks, and the NHS is enlisting 20,000 private hospital staff to work for them.
The PM acknowledged the Government was imposing measures “never seen before either in peace or war”, but said they were essential as the outbreak gathered pace.
He said: “The numbers are very stark, and they are accelerating. We are only a matter of weeks – two or three – behind Italy.
“The Italians have a superb health care system. And yet their doctors and nurses have been completely overwhelmed by the demand.
“The Italian death toll is already in the thousands and climbing. Unless we act together, unless we make the heroic and collective national effort to slow the spread – then it is all too likely that our own NHS will be similarly overwhelmed.”
Mr Johnson suggested one of the ways the public can help prevent that from happening was to video-call their mums instead of visiting.
In a piece for the Sunday Telegraph he wrote: “This Mothering Sunday the single best present that we can give - we who owe our mothers so much - is to spare them the risk of catching a very dangerous disease.
“The sad news is, that means staying away.”
The PM had drawn criticism earlier this week for saying he hoped to see his 77-year-old mother, despite the official advice about the importance of social distancing for the over-70s.
In a further move to protect those most vulnerable to the coronavirus, up to 1.5 million people identified as being at higher risk of severe illness if they contract it are being urged to stay at home.
Those with specific underlying health conditions such as severe respiratory conditions or specific cancers, along with those who have received organ transplants, will be contacted by their GP practice or specialist strongly advising them not to leave the house for at least 12 weeks.
The Government is also announcing that a new Local Support System will make sure those individuals self-isolating at home without a support network of friends and family will receive basic groceries and get their medicines delivered.
And the NHS has struck a deal to acquire 8,000 extra beds, almost 1,200 ventilators and nearly 20,000 medical staff from private hospitals to deal with the sharp rise in patients expected to need treatment.
The agreement, which will see companies reimbursed at cost, so no profit will be made, means almost the entire resources of the private health sector will be reallocated from next week.
In response, Labour's shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: “We welcome any move that brings extra capacity in quickly, but many will question why the government isn’t simply requisitioning these facilities rather than paying for them through the NHS’s overstretched budget.”
On Mr Johnson’s comments, he added: “The rising fatality rate is a sobering reminder that we must all take the social distancing measures seriously and adjust our behaviour.
“The public also needs clear guidance and direction from the government, so people fully understand how vital these measures now are.
“Our NHS is coming under the most intense pressure. We need urgent action to scale up intensive care bed capacity, more community testing with NHS and care staff a priority, the deployment of more protective equipment and an expansion of ventilators.”
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe