'Stay at home' to avoid coronavirus, UK government tells vulnerable

By James Davey

By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain on Saturday urged 1.5 million people identified by the National Health Service (NHS) as being at higher risk of severe illness if they contract coronavirus to stay at home to protect themselves.

The country has been stepping up measures to fight the virus that have so far been less stringent than elsewhere in Europe.

People identified as belonging to one or more of the at-risk groups include those who have received organ transplants, those living with severe respiratory conditions or specific cancers, and some receiving certain types of drug treatments.

They will be contacted by their doctor strongly advising them to stay at home for a period of at least 12 weeks.

"If you receive a letter it is vitally important that you act on it for your own protection, don't attend any gatherings of friends or families and don't go out for shopping, leisure or travel," said Paul Johnson, director at Public Health England.

The outbreak has so far killed 233 in the United Kingdom.

British health minister Matt Hancock said last Sunday that people aged over 70 would be shielded from the virus by self-isolating for up to four months, with an announcement "in the coming weeks".

The government also said on Saturday it plans to deploy members of the armed forces to support an effort ensuring essential groceries and medicines are delivered as soon as possible to those most at risk from the outbreak.

It said a new Local Support System will make sure individuals self-isolating at home and who are without a support network of friends and family will receive basic groceries, while community pharmacies will support those who need help getting medicines delivered.

The government is working with a partnership of grocery retailers, local governments, local resilience and emergency partners, and voluntary groups, to ensure that essential items can start to be delivered as soon as possible.

"Members of the armed forces, already in local communities helping Local Resilience Forums and local councils on their coronavirus response plans, will support this effort and are at the heart of local planning in response to this crisis," it said.


(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Daniel Wallis)