Coronavirus: 20,000 former NHS staff return to fight virus, PM says

Boris Johnson Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Boris Johnson tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this week

Some 20,000 former NHS staff have returned to work to help the fight against coronavirus, Boris Johnson has revealed in a video posted online.

The prime minister, who is self-isolating after testing positive for the virus, said the country would get through the crisis “together”.

It comes after England’s deputy chief medical officer said it could be six months before life returns to “normal”.

The number of people who have died with the virus in the UK has reached 1,228.

Among those to have died is Amged El-Hawrani, a 55-year-old doctor and ear, nose and throat consultant at Queen’s Hospital Burton.

And last week an organ transplant consultant died after testing positive for the virus.

Prof Andrew Goddard, the head of the Royal College of Physicians, said “about one in four” of its workforce was currently off work, either with symptoms or isolating because family members have symptoms.

“I’ve got lots of colleagues sitting at home with family members. They themselves don’t have symptoms and are chomping at the bit to try and get back to work,” he said, adding that widespread testing would mean staff who are well can return to work.

The UK government said it was ramping up testing of NHS frontline workers.

In the video, which Mr Johnson posted on Twitter, he contradicted the view of Conservative prime minister from 1979-1990, Margaret Thatcher, that “there is no such thing as society”.

Thanking the doctors, nurses and other former professionals who have returned to the NHS, as well as the 750,000 members of the public who have volunteered to help the country through the pandemic, he said: “We are going to do it, we are going to do it together.

“One thing I think the coronavirus crisis has already proved is that there really is such a thing as society.”

The prime minister has continued to lead the country’s response to the pandemic while self-isolating in his Downing Street flat.

Mr Johnson said the public appeared to be obeying the restrictions set out by government to slow the spread of the virus, adding that train use was down 95% and bus use down 75%.

Prof Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London and author of a report into the pandemic, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there were “some early signs of slowing in some indicators” in the UK.

“If we look at the number of new hospital admissions per day for instance, that does appear to be slowing down a little bit now. It’s not yet plateaued, so the numbers can be increasing each day, but the rate of increase has slowed.”

Asked how many people may have been infected in the UK, Prof Ferguson said it varied across the country.

“(In) Central London it could be as many as 3% to 5% of the population has been infected, maybe more in individual hotspots. In the country as a whole, the UK, maybe 2% or 3%.”

In other developments:

  • A breathing aid that can help keep coronavirus patients out of intensive care has been created in under a week by University College London engineers working alongside clinicians and Mercedes Formula One
  • Police in Scotland issued 25 fines over the weekend to people breaking the coronavirus restrictions, such as businesses that were still open. The force also said it received a significant number of calls including from people reporting others who were breaking rules
  • Airline EasyJet has grounded its entire fleet of aircraft due to the pandemic
  • The boss of the UK’s largest regional airline, Loganair, has said his firm plans to ask for government help to get through the pandemic
  • Meanwhile, thousands of EasyJet and Virgin staff, are being offered work in the new NHS Nightingale Hospital, which is being set up at the ExCel Centre in east London. The chief nursing officer for England, Ruth May, said around 100 cabin crew have expressed an interest
  • A rapid response unit within the Cabinet Office is working with social media firms to remove misinformation about coronavirus
  • In South Korea, there are calls to deport a British man in his 30s, who broke quarantine guidelines and may have spread the virus while travelling through the country. Instead of spending 14 days in self-isolation after arriving, he visited four different cities and later tested positive
  • In the US, social distancing restrictions will be extended until at least 30 April, President Trump has said
Image copyright Downing Street
Image caption The prime minister has been chairing Covid-19 meetings via video-link

On Sunday, England’s deputy chief medical officer said the government would review the lockdown measures for the first time in three weeks’ time.

But Dr Jenny Harries warned the public: “We must not then suddenly revert to our normal way of living.”

She said that would be “quite dangerous” and could risk a “second peak” of the virus.

Dr Harries said this did not mean the country would be in “complete lockdown” for half a year.

Instead, she said social distancing measures would be reviewed every three weeks and reduced gradually over a period of around three to six months.

However, Dr Harries said it was “plausible” restrictions could continue for longer.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionDr Jenny Harries says social distancing measures will likely be in place for “three to six months”

Speaking alongside Dr Harries at Sunday’s news conference, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the UK was on an “emergency footing” in a way “unprecedented” in peacetime.

Following concerns over shortages of personal protective equipment for frontline NHS staff, Mr Jenrick said there was now a “national supply distribution response team” to deliver PPE to those in need, supported by the Armed Forces and other emergency services.

And he said the first 50,000 food parcels would be sent out this week to the most vulnerable people in at-risk groups, who are being told to stay at home for 12 weeks to protect them from the virus.

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