Boris Johnson says 'business as usual' after first confirmed death of patient with coronavirus in UK

  • Video report by ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke

Boris Johnson has said it remains "business as usual" in the UK after the country saw its first death of a person who tested positive for coronavirus.

The patient, who had underlying conditions, had been "in an out of hospital" for other reasons, but was admitted on Wednesday evening to the Royal Berkshire NHS Trust and tested positive.

It is understood the patient was a woman aged in her 70s.

Speaking shortly after the death was announced, the Prime Minister extended his "sympathies" to the woman and her family, but said the situation in the UK remains "pretty much as it has been".

He added the country remains in the "contain phase" - the first stage of the government's response to the outbreak - but "scientists and medical advisers are making preparations for the delay phase".

The PM said the advice is still "wash your hands and business as usual".

  • 'Wash your hands and business as usual'

England's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty said the "direction of travel" was from the containment phase to the delay phase but the "step change" had not been made yet, clarifying earlier comments suggesting a move was being made already.

The professor has earlier told MPs the response to coronavirus was already moving into its second "delay" phase, rather than seeking to simply "contain" the disease.

During the "contain" phase, officials aim to detect and isolate early cases and trace people who have been in contact with those infected in a bid to prevent the virus from spreading widely across the country.

In the "delay" phase, the aim is to slow the spread of the virus, reducing the impact and pushing it away from the winter season.

The Government believes that if the peak of the virus can be delayed until warmer months, it can reduce the risk of overlapping with seasonal flu and other challenges that the colder months bring.

Plans for the delay stage of the outbreak could include school closures, greater home working and reducing large-scale gatherings to "slow the spread".

The plan is currently in the 'contain' phase. Credit: PA

It comes as cases of coronavirus in the UK have more than doubled in 48 hours, bringing the total to 116 people.

Of these, 18 people have so far recovered from the respiratory illness and 45 people are being treated at home.

At least ten of the UK cases are caused by community infections - meaning they did not contract the virus abroad or in known hotspots.

Overall, 105 people have tested positive in England, two in Wales, six in Scotland and three in Northern Ireland.

Also on Thursday, the NHS said anyone who has returned from Italy and is displaying symptoms of Covid-19 - a cough, fever or shortness of breath - should self-isolate at home.

Chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty said the move was needed because of the evolving situation in Italy.

  • ITV News Correspondents breaks down what this all means

In a bid to reduce pressure on the NHS as the number of cases of the virus increases, the Department of Health said people diagnosed with coronavirus and who exhibit only mild symptoms should self-isolate at home rather than in hospital.

The NHS has also updated its travel advice on Italy to urge anyone returning to the UK from "lockdown" areas in the north of the country in the past two weeks to self-isolate even if they do not have symptoms.

The advice said: "If you have returned from Italy in the last 14 days and develop symptoms, however mild, you should self-isolate and call NHS 111.

"If you have returned from specific lockdown areas in Northern Italy in the last 14 days, you should call NHS 111 and self-isolate even if you do not have symptoms."

An NHS catch it, bin it, kill it sign on TV screens in the entrance to the QEII Centre in London. Credit: PA

Also on Thursday, Downing Street said it is "highly likely" that the coronavirus will spread in a "significant way" and officials are accelerating preparations to enter the delay phase to deal with the outbreak.

Prof Whitty warned critical care beds in the NHS could come under intense pressure during a coronavirus epidemic.

He said people needing oxygen would stretch the health service and some "things may be considerably less well done" during the peak of an epidemic.

He said half of all coronavirus cases in the UK are most likely to occur in just a three-week period, with 95% of them over a nine-week period.

In a worst-case scenario, "the ratio of doctors to patients and nurses to patients would inevitably go down very sharply", but he said steps could possibly be taken to mitigate that.

  • Chris Whitty said there are several cases where PHE is unable to identify where the disease has originated from

Earlier on Thursday, it had been announced that England's Six Nations game against Italy in Rome on March 14 has been postponed.

Organisers took the decision to call off the match because of the spread of the virus, instead of playing the game behind closed doors.

However Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there was no "clinical benefit" to cancelling events.

He said: "There is no material clinical benefit, epidemiologic benefit to cancelling events, so long as people undertake the public health measures that I'm sure you'll have heard of.

"Wash your hands and if you have a cough or a sneeze, catch it."

It is the second Six Nations match to be called off in the wake of the outbreak, after this weekend's rugby match between Ireland and Italy was postponed.

Last week, the Foreign Office confirmed a British tourist who had been on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined in Japan, had died from the virus.