The beginning of the UK peak of the coronavirus epidemic is expected within the next 10 to 14 days, England’s deputy chief medical officer has warned.
Dr Jenny Harries said people would likely be advised to self-isolate as she defended the government’s decision to delay closing schools.
She said experts are assessing new cases on an hourly basis to achieve a “balanced response” to the outbreak, which has infected 373 people in the UK and killed six.
Dr Harries said the vast majority of those who contract the disease in the UK are “pretty well” but 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.
“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.”
It came as Italy extended its coronavirus travel restrictions to the whole of the country on Tuesday, with soldiers and police enforcing the bans.
Italy has recorded 9,172 cases of Covid-19 and 463 deaths, with figures expected to rise.
The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) 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.
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.
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.
Additional reporting by Press Association
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