UK 'can't rule out' nationwide lockdown as sixth person dies after testing positive for coronavirus

An Italy-style lockdown of the UK "cannot be ruled out" as NHS England confirms a sixth patient has died after testing positive for coronavirus .

The country is braced for a "sharp rise" in cases, according to England's deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries.

The number of coronavirus cases in the UK rose to 373 on Tuesday - up from 319 the day before. Wales confirmed the number of cases rose by nine to 15 on Tuesday.

It comes on the day West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust confirmed a man in his early 80s has become the sixth patient to die.

A statement from the trust said: "Sadly, we can confirm that a man who was being cared for at Watford General Hospital, and had tested positive for Covid-19, has died.

"The patient, who died in the evening of Monday March 9, was in his early 80s and had underlying health conditions.

"His family has been informed and our thoughts and condolences are with them at this difficult and distressing time."

England's chief medical officer said the UK is 'very close' to insisting a seven-day self-isolation upon anyone with 'even minor respiratory tract infections or a fever'. Credit: PA

While a country-wide quarantine is not inevitable and not the "best measure" for the UK currently, Dr Harries said "we shouldn’t rule anything out".

She added that the UK Government is following scientific advice which could alter depending on how the coronavirus situation in the UK changes.

Italy is experiencing its first day under lockdown, after the country's Prime Minister extended restrictions imposed in the north to the entire nation as the number of deaths and cases of Covid-19 continued to soar.

Britons are being warned against "all but essential travel" to the country following a rise in Covid-19 cases. A number of airlines cancelled flights to and from Italy on Tuesday as the travel advisory came into force.

An eerily quiet St Mark's Square in Venice as Italy remains on lockdown. Credit: AP

On Monday, England's chief medical officer Chris Witty said the UK is "very close" to insisting a seven-day self-isolation upon anyone with "even minor respiratory tract infections or a fever".

Professor Whitty said that the UK will reach that stage "probably within the next 10-14 days"

Asked if a country-wide quarantine could come into place in the UK, Dr Harries responded on Tuesday: "We are providing the scientific advice, we have good surveillance systems for counting cases across the country and it’s not inevitable that we would move to that position.

An Emergency Department Nurse during a demonstration of the coronavirus pod and COVID-19 virus testing procedures. Credit: PA

She added: "We want to put in the best measures, not just measures because they are there.

"I think we shouldn't rule anything out, we would continue to look at the evidence as we go through but those are not the measures which would [currently] appear to be the best ones for the UK population with our demography."

She also admitted the UK will see "many more cases" but stopped short of predicting a precise number.

"I think we will see many more cases and this is slightly worrying," she said.

"I realise it sounds an awful lot of numbers of people but actually a lot of people have coughs and colds over the winter normally, a lot of people have flu.

"The important thing is this is a new disease and we need to be very careful about protecting those individuals who we think are most at risk and that is predominantly the elderly and those with underlying chronic conditions."

She added: "We will see a sharp rise in numbers in cases but we can’t predict the precise number because obviously we are looking to put in interventions to try and manage those numbers and spread them out."

Dr Harries added she expected "99%" of those infected by coronavirus to recover from the respiratory illness.

The fatality rate may appear to rise in the early stages of the epidemic but this is because they will initially find those in the poorest health most easily, she added.

"The fatality rate is usually about, as we’ve seen, around 1% so I mean there’s a good news message as well as a sad one," she said.

"I think it’s important to recognise that we might actually expect that figure to appear to go up in the first few weeks of the epidemic because what we will be most easily counting are those people who are the most ill - we can find them most easily.

"Gradually, as we learn more about how it spreads in the population and the number of cases that are very mild, that figure will probably drop back down again so I think viewers should not be alarmed if they see that changing.

"You'll see in Italy at the moment actually it looks to be about 5% (fatality rate), but I would strongly suspect that’s because they are picking up the very high risk cases - those with serious disease - and are not yet counting the totality of cases across the country."

Matt Hancock addressed MPs on Tuesday.

Some medical professionals are worried not enough is being done to protect them and their patients.

It is understood eye doctors at several London hospitals have taken their own steps to make screens.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs on Tuesday that personal protective equipment - known as PPE - is being delivered not just to hospitals but also GPs and primary health carers.

"We now have rolled out PPE to two thirds of primary care and the rest of it is in progress so we will absolutely address this, it’s quite right that we did," he said.

"We wanted to get the timing of the rollout right so that the equipment is there should this epidemic hit in a very large way. We’ve got to make sure we protect our health staff."

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know