Over-70s 'will be told to stay at home' as ministers ramp up response to coronavirus
Britain's over-70s could be told to stay at home for four months as the Government tries to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
ITV news reports that a "wartime-style" mobilisation effort will see the elderly and vulnerable instructed to stay in isolation at home or in care homes to try and ease pressure on the health service.
Ministers and officials are also considering moves to requisition hotels and other buildings for use as temporary hospitals, while the enforced closure of pubs, restaurants and bars is on the cards.
The Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) confirmed on Saturday that its next planned interventions - "shielding the vulnerable and household isolation" - will be instituted "soon".
And Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "Sage has advised the next planned effective interventions will need to be instituted soon, including measures to ‘shield’ older and medically vulnerable people from the virus."
He added: "Everyone will need to help to ensure they get the support they need to stay at home, and to protect them from the consequences of isolation: loneliness, and a lack of support.
"Government, local councils, charities, friends and neighbours will need to be part of the national effort to support the shielded. We will provide expert advice and support as soon as we progress to this phase."
The dramatic steps - which ITV reports are likely to be introduced in the next 20 days - come as Boris Johnson asks manufacturers to use their production lines to ensure Britain has enough ventilators to treat those affected by the outbreak.
Covid-19 has claimed the lives of 21 people in the UK, according to the latest figures, with the death toll doubling in just four hours.
The Sunday Telegraph reports that the Prime Minister will on Sunday lead a conference call with manufacturing firms Unipart, Rolls Royce and JCB to press them on the "vital role" they can play in responding to the outbreak, and as governments across Europe race to purchase ventilators.
Unipart chairman John Neill said: "This is a critical initiative - there are a lot of talented people already working at a great speed on this. It has my and others' full-hearted support."
Mr Hancock said the Government was issuing a "call to arms" for firms to build ventilators and other equipment needed by the NHS.
He added : "We are better equipped thanks to the NHS than most other countries, but we will need many more. We now need any manufacturers to transform their production lines to make ventilators. We cannot make too many."
The Health Secretary also confirmed that emergency legislation will be published next week giving the Government temporary powers to response to a "worst case scenario" crisis.
In a significant shift, it emerged this weekend that ministers and officials were drawing up plans to curb mass gatherings and encourage the country to shift to more widespread working from home in the coming days.
Health service chiefs have meanwhile been given permission to buy up beds in private hospitals to try to ensure enough capacity in the system.