Coronavirus: UK peak epidemic expected in 10-14 days

The start of the UK peak of the coroanvirus epidemic is expected within the next fortnight, England's deputy chief medical officer has said.

Dr Jenny Harries defended the Government's decision to delay closing schools and the introduction of other stringent tactics, saying experts are assessing new cases on an hourly basis to achieve a "balanced response".

But new measures - including those aimed at protecting the elderly and vulnerable - are expected shortly as cases rise more rapidly across the UK.

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The latest figures show that 319 people in the UK are now confirmed to have Covid-19, and five people have died in British hospitals.

A traveller wears a mask as she fills out a form at a check point set up by border police inside Rome's Termini train station.

A British man became the first UK citizen to die from coronavirus after being infected on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

Dr Harries said the vast majority of those diagnosed with coronavirus in the UK are "pretty well" but that they may "feel a bit rough for a few days".She added: "Within 10 to 14 days we will be likely to advise people with symptoms to self-isolate and we are expecting that start of the peak (of coronavirus cases) to come during that period."

Dr Harries said cancelling big outdoor events like football matches would not necessarily be a decision supported by science.

"The virus will not survive very long outside," she said. "Many outdoor events, particularly, are relatively safe."

Speaking on Sky News, Dr Harries said "many thousands of people" would contract coronavirus as the disease continued to spread in the UK.

"We currently have relatively few cases here, which is why we are still in the containment phase," she said.

"Obviously we will have significant numbers in a way in which the country is not used to.

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"This is the sort of thing that professionally we're trained for and very rarely see, almost in a professional lifetime.

"Large numbers of the population will become infected because it's a naive population - nobody has got antibodies to this virus currently.

"We will see many thousands of people infected by coronavirus, that's what we're seeing in other countries, and the important thing for us is to make sure that we manage those infections."

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, she said GPs would only visit sick people self-isolating in their own homes if absolutely necessary, due to the fact it is an infectious disease.

She added: "Generally we expect nearly all of these patients to be fine at home, and we are working to ensure, if they need, the few that become seriously ill, to get into hospital, there will be quick mechanisms for them to do that."

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The comments came as Italy extended coronavirus travel restrictions to the whole country on Tuesday, with soldiers and police enforcing the bans.

Overall, Italy has recorded 9,172 cases of Covid-19, with 463 deaths, and figures expected to rise.

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The Italian government assured its people that supermarkets will remain open and stocked after mass panic-buying.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in the UK amended its advice to warn against all but essential travel to Italy.

Meanwhile, the NHS has removed false Twitter accounts that have been spreading "misleading" information about the coronavirus outbreak.

Official NHS guidance is also to be displayed at the top of internet search results as part of measures to stop the spread of disinformation.

As part of a new range of features for internet platforms, the health service said it had worked with Google, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram on ways to help promote "good advice" when people were searching online.

On Monday, England's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said Britons with cold, flu or fever symptoms could soon to be asked to stay at home in self-isolation before too long.

For most people, coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, but for some people such as the elderly or those with underlying health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

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Prof Whitty said the balance would tip so that more and more people would suffer coronavirus rather than regular seasonal flu or other respiratory infections.

He added: "We are expecting the numbers to increase initially quite slowly but really quite fast after a while and we have to catch it before the upswing begins.

"We are now very close to the time, probably within the next 10 to 14 days, when the modelling would imply we should move to a situation where everybody with even minor respiratory tract infections or a fever should be self-isolating for a period of seven days."

In other developments on how the virus is behaving, experts have said people infected with Covid-19 could go five days without showing any symptoms.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimated the average incubation period of the virus to be 5.1 days.

Another study found that being older, showing signs of sepsis and having blood clots were key factors associated with a higher risk of death.

The research, published by The Lancet, examined 191 patients with confirmed Covid-19 at two hospitals in Wuhan - the epicentre of the outbreak.Elsewhere:

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- The FCO said US authorities are planning a flight on Tuesday to repatriate British nationals on the Grand Princess cruise ship at the Port of Oakland, California.

- Updated guidance for pregnancy advised expectant mothers with suspected or confirmed coronavirus to attend an obstetric unit for birth.

- The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the hours which deliveries can be made to supermarkets and other food retailers will be extended to help the industry respond.