By Karim Tair El-Bar
LONDON (AA) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday that 405,000 people have volunteered to help the National Health Service battle the novel coronavirus.
The news came as the Department of Health announced that the U.K.-wide death toll from coronavirus was 465, an increase of 28 in the past 24 hours.
The government had put the call out the day before in the hopes of recruiting 250,000 volunteers.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the recruits were to be “people in good health to help the NHS, for shopping, for the delivery of medicines and to support those who are shielding to protect their own health.”
Johnson’s press conference came as the government’s emergency coronavirus bill, which gave it powers to ban large gatherings and forcibly quarantine infected people, was passed by parliament and given royal assent, thus becoming law.
A representative of Public Health England told parliament earlier in the day that self-testing kits for the coronavirus could be ready as early as next week and that the government has ordered millions of them. The tests require only a drop of blood to carry out an analysis.
At the daily press conference, the chief medical officer and chief scientific advisor clarified that the tests would be examined for accuracy first, and then frontline healthcare workers would be prioritized for testing, and only then would the tests be introduced to the wider public and data collected.
The existence of such a test would enable people, including NHS workers in self-isolation, to return to work quicker.
At a lobby briefing for journalists also earlier in the day at Downing Street, the prime minister’s spokesman said Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) had set up a taskforce to investigate profiteering from the outbreak. The CMA has the power to impose serious fines, and the government was considering laws to ban outright profiteering from the coronavirus.
Both the spokesman and later the prime minister himself, at his daily press conference, confirmed that Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak will announce measures Thursday to financially assist the self-employed.
The issue has been controversial in recent days as previous economic measures have largely been targeted at those in formal employment, leaving behind many self-employed who could feel the need to continue going to work as opposed to staying at home.
The Guardian reported that the deputy ambassador to Hungary, Steven Dick, 37, died from coronavirus in Budapest on Tuesday. He had worked with the Foreign Office since 2008 and previously served in Kabul and Riyadh.
“I am desperately saddened by the news of Steven’s death, and my heart goes out to his parents Steven and Carol. Steven was a dedicated diplomat and represented his country with great skill and passion. He will be missed by all those who knew him and worked with him,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.
UK outlook so far
Professor Neil Ferguson, a British epidemiologist at Imperial College London, gave evidence to Parliament’s science committee earlier in the day, in which he said the NHS could now cope with the expected surge in coronavirus cases.
“There will be some areas that are extremely stressed, but we are reasonably confident -- which is all we can be at the current time -- that at the national level, we will be within capacity,” he said.
“If the current measures work as we would expect them, then we will see intensive care demand peak in approximately two to three weeks and then decline thereafter.
“The reason for that lag is because it takes people something like two to three weeks from being infected to being in an intensive care unit. So the measures put in place last week, intensified this week, we think will have had a significant effect on transmission. But it takes that time for it to propagate through to healthcare demand,” he said.
He added that he expected up to 10% of London’s population to be infected and that it was “plausible” that like other coronaviruses, transmissions could be reduced in the summer by around 10% to 20%.
He warned, however, that “the long-term exit from this is clearly the hopes around a vaccine.”
After emerging in Wuhan, China last December, the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has spread to at least 170 countries and territories.
The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.
The number of confirmed cases worldwide has now surpassed 460,000 while the death toll stands at 20,857 and over 113,000 have recovered, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.
Despite the rising number of cases, most who contract the virus suffer only mild symptoms before making a recovery.