Brits with even a minor fever or respiratory illness will have to start self-isolating within around two weeks, the Chief Medical officer has warned.
Professor Chris Whitty said that "probably within the next 10-14 days" there will be "a situation where we say everybody who has even minor respiratory tract infections or a fever should be self isolating for seven days afterwards".
It came as the Prime Minister told a press conference that the UK was gearing up to move from the first step of containing the virus to delaying its spread.
Boris Johnson added: "I want to stress the following things. First, we are doing everything we can to combat this outbreak based on the latest scientific and medical advice.
"Second, we have a truly brilliant NHS where staff have responded with all the determination, compassion and skill that makes their service so revered across the world and they will continue to have this Government's full support, my support, in tackling this virus on the front line.
"Third, we will set out further steps in the days and weeks ahead to help people protect themselves, their family and in particularly the elderly and vulnerable.
"Finally, while it is absolutely critical in managing the spread of this virus that we take the right decisions at the right time based on the latest and the best evidence, so we mustn't do things which have no or limited medical benefit, nor things which could turn out actually to be counter productive, there is no hiding from the fact that the coronavirus outbreak will present significant challenges for the UK just as it does in other countries.
"But if we continue to look out for one another, to pull together in a united and national effort, I have no doubt that we can and will rise to that challenge."
Professor Whitty explained why the public will soon have to take the more drastic step of self isolating if they have a fever or respiratory problem.
He said: “At the moment, the ratio between people who’ve got coronavirus in the UK and other significant respiratory tract infections is very very low.
“That is going to shift over time for two reasons… the actual amount of coronavirus is steadily going to increase, and we’re expecting the numbers to increase initially slowly but really quite fast after a while.
“And we have to catch it before the upswing begins.
“And secondly the other causes of coughs and colds that are seasonal at this time of year are at their tail end of maximum activity in the UK.
“So the ratios are going to shift very significantly.
“So we are now very close to the time, probably within the next 10-14 days, when the modelling would imply we should move to a situation where we say everybody who has even minor respiratory tract infections, or a fever, should be self isolating for seven days afterwards.
“And this is going to be the next step – we have not yet reached that step, but we are going to be reaching that step in the really quite near future.”
He also revealed how hospitals are increasing their handling patients with pneumonia.
Professor Chris Whitty said: "We're going to make one additional change on the health side tomorrow.
“At the moment we are screening everybody who’s in intensive care for coronavirus if they have symptoms that are compatible with coronavirus – so if they have a very bad pneumonia.
“We’ll be extending that out now, as from tomorrow, to everybody who has a significant enough pneumonia or other respiratory tract infection to get into hospital at all.
“So that's a medical advance."
Professor Whitty also acknowledged that the public were likely to have to change their lives.
He said: "I think what we’re moving now to is a phase when we will be having to ask members of the general public to do different things than they would normally do.”
But he stressed the importance of timing because "anything we do, we have got to be able to sustain" throughout the peak of the outbreak.
"There is a risk if we go too early people will understandably get fatigued and it will be difficult to sustain this over time," he said.
"So getting the timing right is absolutely critical to making this work."
Earlier today Health Secretary Matthew Hancock announced a fourth death in the UK from coronavirus.
He told MPs that of this morning the UK has 319 cases in an update to the House of Commons.
Referring to the announcement of the fourth death from the disease Boris Johnson said: "Our deepest sympathies are obviously with their friends and families".
So far Public Health England has tested 25,000 people for coronavirus.
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