UK officially moves to 'delay' phase of coronavirus response, Nicola Sturgeon announces
The UK has officially moved to the delay phase of its coronavirus response plan, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
In a move that pre-empted Downing Street's own announcement, the First Minister said the Government's emergency Cobra committee had on Thursday decided to move into the next phase of its response - but has stopped short of closing schools.
Speaking following the meeting, Mr Sturgeon said people symptoms of coronavirus, including fever and a persistent cough, would now be asked to self-isolate at home for seven days.
She confirmed said schools would be asked to cancel all overseas trips, with Foreign Office guidance to that effect set to be published.
But she confirmed that the Government had decided not to close schools, colleges or universities in the wake of the outbreak.
Announcing the move, she said: "The decision has been taken that we have now moved from a contain phase into the delay phase, where the objective is to seek to slow down the spread of the virus, to reduce the numbers who will be infected at the peak, the numbers affected at any one time."
She added: "That shift from contain to delay clearly has implications. The initial implication of that is a change in the advice that we are now giving to the general public.
"The advice that we will be giving now is that from tomorrow if you have symptoms that are indicative of having coronavirus you should stay at home. You should self-isolate for a period of seven days."
"Ongoing, regular review"
It comes after Ireland's Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced all schools and colleges in the country would shut from 6pm on Thursday until 29 March.
But Ms Sturgeon said the decision not to close schools in the UK would remain under "very close, ongoing, regular review".
"Obviously closing schools has a very direct effect on the ability to keep key workers at work," she said.
"There is also a view that closing schools will lead to children gathering in more informal settings, which actually may be more of a risk of them contracting the infection because unlike in schools where the hand hygiene protocols can be followed, that would not be the case.
"But there’s also a point about longevity of a position around school closures. If it gets to a stage where the advice is to close schools this will not be for a week or two weeks.
"This would be something that advised to last throughout the peak of this infection. And that is potentially until the summer period."
Meanwhile, the First Minister also unveiled Scotland-specific advice, saying she had decided that mass gatherings with over 500 people would be banned north of the Border from Monday.
She said the measure would not yet apply to other UK regions.
Ms Sturgeon said she had made the decision to avoid extra strain on fronline emergency services, but acknowledged the scientific advice was that banning gatherings would not have a significant impact on the spread of the disease.
She added: "We have looked carefully at the situation and come to the decision today in the Scottish Government, that we will from the start of next week, advise the cancellation of mass gatherings of over 500 people that have the potential to have an impact on our frontline emergency services."