By Lydia O’Kane
Britain was on lockdown Tuesday after the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson ordered people to stay at home to halt the spread of the Coronavirus.
The measures follow those already put in place in a number of other European countries, including Spain and Italy.
In a televised address to the nation on Monday, the Prime Minister announced that all but essential shops must close immediately and people would only be allowed to leave their homes to shop for basic necessities, exercise, for a medical need, to provide care or travelling to and from work where absolutely necessary.
Under the new rules, gatherings of more than two people are prohibited including ceremonies such as, weddings and baptisms. Funerals are the exception to the list.
Boris Johnson said that if people did not abide by the new measures, the police would be out to enforce them.
Countries around Europe have been grappling with the Coronavirus outbreak with health services stretched to the maximum. “I think it was inevitable that we were going to see a large outbreak because no nation has managed to stop it”, said Professor Jim McManus who is Director of Public Health at Hertfordshire County Council, and Vice President of the Association of Directors of Public Health in the UK.
“It is possible that we can slow it; the government strategy is designed to do just that, but that really does mean that people have to take very seriously the guidance of social distancing and prevention.”
“One of the things about the British response is that it is designed to protect and shield the most vulnerable… but if we do not practice social distancing, then we will end up taking up health service resources that need to be kept for those most vulnerable, he said.”
Even before these new measures had been put in place, television and social media images showed people stripping supermarket shelves bare of items, fearful that supermarkets would run out of stock.
Prof McManus noted that the impact of panic buying has been two fold in that the vulnerable can’t get out to get food and when they do get out there is nothing left in the supermarket for them to buy.
He underlined in particular that there was a shortage of baby milk formula for some mothers and that some healthcare workers found that shelves were empty when they went to do a shop.
Health services in many countries have had to cope with the vast numbers of people who have been infected by the Covid-19 virus and Prof McManus said “the pressure is huge” in certain areas of the UK.
In his address, the Prime Minister stated that "without a huge national effort to halt the growth of this virus, there will come a moment when no health service in the world could possibly cope; because there won’t be enough ventilators, enough intensive care beds, enough doctors and nurses."
Prof McManus said that social care services which are run by local authorities are working with the NHS to get people out of hospitals, who don’t need to be there, and who can be cared for in the community.
He also said that retired doctors and nurses are being recruited back into active service.
The Church amid Covid-19
The Director of Public Health, who is also an advisor to the Bishops Conference of England and Wales said that Churches had already suspended public worship but, he added, there are several things the Churches can do: “The first is pray and bear witness to the Catholic values that will get us out of this; the second is to be a sign of hope for the nation; this will pass, but it will only pass if we behave in ways that love and care for our neighbour”.
Deaths from the Covid-19 virus in Britain jumped 54 to 335 on Monday. The government also announced the military would help ship millions of items of personal protective equipment including masks to healthcare workers who are coping with shortages.