Boris Johnson’s Covid-19 Plans for the UK - Explained

09 Mar 2020

Coronavirus In this article, we are going to assume that you already have a good understanding of what the corona virus is, along with its ramifications.

With cases on the rise, Boris Johnson addressed the British nation, Matt Hancock addressed the House of Commons, and the Government released a 28-page document explaining the Government’s plans to handle the virus. 

So, what is the UK doing to stop the spread of corona virus?

According to gov.uk - As of 9am on 8 March 2020, 23,513 people have been tested in the UK, of which 23,240 were confirmed negative and 273 were confirmed as positive. A total of three patients in England who tested positive for COVID-19 have died.

Boris Johnson made a speech on Tuesday, March 3rd addressing the outbreak for the first time alongside Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Officer, Patrick Vallance. 

Sir Patrick John Thompson Vallance is a British medical doctor. Since March 2018 he has been the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of the United Kingdom. Christopher John MacRae Whitty is a British physician and epidemiologist, who is Chief Medical Officer for England, Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government.

In his speech, Johnson announced – “Today we’ve published the corona virus action plan, setting out how all four parts of the UK will take all necessary and reasonable steps to prepare for, and tackle this outbreak. The plan has four strands. Containing the virus, delaying its spread, researching its origins and cure, and finally… mitigating the impact should the virus become more widespread. And our plan means we are committed to doing everything possible, based on the advice of our world-leading scientific experts, to prepare for all eventualities. We will make sure the NHS gets all the support it needs to continue their brilliant response to the virus so far. 

The Prime Minister then re-iterated the need to “Wash our hands with soap and hot water for the length of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday… twice.”

The UK is still in the ‘contained’ phase, where the Government is putting effort into isolating those affected and trying to prevent the virus from spreading around the country. But the Government recognised the containment wouldn’t be successful forever. And they weren’t wrong!

On March 5th the Government, while still in stage 1, announced moving toward stage 2 Section 4.42 (The Delay Phase – next steps) of The Action Plan notes. Based on previous experience with previous outbreaks, it may be that widespread exposure in the UK, is inevitable; but slowing it down would still nonetheless be beneficial.

In the ‘Delay Phase,’ the Government would take action to try and slow the spread, preventing a huge spike in the number of patients that need to be treated and giving workers longer to develop a cure. The Government says that during this phase, which would be triggered when it is clear that it was no longer possible to contain the spread of the virus - action that would be considered, could include ‘population distancing’ strategies. Also known as ‘social distancing.’ These could involve school closures, along with reducing the numbers of large-scale gatherings. The report warns that the number of deaths resulting from the virus can be expected to increase further and the virus could spread in waves, just as we saw with the Spanish flu epidemic. 

Professor Chris Whitty remarked “In the UK, around 1% of people who get the virus might end up dying.”

This is a lower death rate prediction than has been experienced in other countries as the UK believes it is better placed to handle the crisis. The report also notes that if the virus does become impossible to contain, then it would likely take between 6-8 weeks to reach its peak, with the peak period continuing for a further 4 weeks before dropping off over the next 12 weeks. But this spread is not guaranteed, and neither are the predictions being made, as studies so far have yet to produce any real data. 

In fact, the Government document specifically references this in section 4.47 (The Research Phase – next steps) It is possible that an outbreak or Pandemic of COVID-19 could occur in multiple waves (it is not known yet if the disease will have a seasonal pattern, like flu) and therefore depending upon what the emerging evidence starts to tell us, it may be necessary to ensure readiness for a future wave of activity.
The Government has also announced that the Army will be on standby. 

If the Army were utilised, they would be expected to assist struggling public services, filling in the gaps left in the Police and health services. The Army’s primary function would be to take over guarding duties from the Police and allow them to focus on other responsibilities. The Police also have specific plans in place to handle the outbreak. In the event of a serious outbreak - Section 4.48 (The Mitigate Phase – next steps) notes that in the case of a large amount of officers who were off sick, the Police, along with fire and rescue, would only investigate the most serious cases and focus only on their critical functions like responding to serious crimes and maintaining public order. 

This leads on to section 4.35 (The Phased Response – what we will do next) In the event of the outbreak worsening, or a severe prolonged pandemic, the response will escalate, and the response will move from Contain to Delay, through to Mitigate. During this phase the pressures on services and wider society may start to become significant and clearly noticeable. The document also makes note of employers and tax mitigation. 

Employers across the country can expect up to a fifth of their staff to be sick at one time in the worst-case scenario. According to the report this could last up to a month, meaning a pretty significant impact on businesses, especially small businesses. In return the Government is proposing a series of tax mitigation strategies where businesses affected by the outbreak could be given some form of tax relief. This taps into the existing HMRC ‘time to pay’ system and will be handled on a case-by-case basis. 

With the NHS at 94% bed capacity without an influx of patients due to the corona virus, Boots, the UK’s largest Chemist have been limiting hand sanitser to two per person to ensure availability to everyone – while online sellers have taken advantage of the shortages by adding huge mark-ups to their products. 

Some good news to end on came from the Government on March 4th regarding statutory sick pay. Anyone who is self-isolating no longer has to wait four days before getting statutory sick pay. Instead it now begins on day one. Although this is a temporary measure, Johnson made it clear that people should not be penalised for doing the right thing.