Elderly people who contract coronavirus are “not a goner” and the “great majority” of patients as old as 80 will recover, England’s top doctor has said.
Health chiefs have warned that older people and those with pre-exisiting medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heath disease are more likely to fall seriously ill from the virus.
But Prof Witty said: “Even in the most vulnerable, oldest groups, in a very stressed health service – which Hubei was at the point when most of the data came out – the great majority of people who caught this virus – and not everybody will – survived it. The great majority, over 90 per cent.
“I think it’s easy to get a perception that if you are older and you get this virus then you’re a goner – absolutely not, the great majority of people will recover from this virus, even if they are in their 80s.”
He added: “We intend to do what we can to make sure that they are the group that is least affected as far as we can.”
Prof Whitty’s comments came in response to a question from MP Jeremy Hunt, chair of the Health and Social Care committee, who said the Chinese government had declared “80 per cent of the fatalities have been people over the age of 60”.
The chief medic was grilled by the committee as the number of coronavirus cases in the UK rose to 90 on Thursday.
Earlier, Prof Whitty said Britain had moved mainly into the “delay” phase of its four-stage battle plan for tackling coronavirus.
He said new measures will be considered to try to reduce the spread of the outbreak in this second phase.
Downing Street has said it would make a public announcement when the UK had moved to the second stage.
The government is likely to encourage home-working, and could cancel large-scale gatherings and possibly close schools to slow the spread of the disease and delay the peak of the outbreak until summer, when the health service is under less pressure.
More than 95,300 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide, with more than 3,200 of them fatal.
Chinese scientists studying the disease say they have found two main strains of the virus are circulating in humans.
The researchers said they had found a more aggressive strain of the new coronavirus, associated with the original outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan, accounted for about 70 per cent of analysed cases. The other 30 per cent were linked to a less aggressive type.
Additional reporting by agencies.
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