It comes after the outbreak was categorised as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation and 10 people in the UK were confirmed to have died after contracting the illness.
What are the new measures under the ‘delay’ phase?
The delay phase sees a mixture of the same advice given out, such as encouraging the washing of hands regularly, while also introducing new measures to slow the spread of the virus.
The biggest change is that anyone who has flu-like symptoms – meaning a continuous, dry cough and fever – is urged to stay at home and self-isolate for seven days, as most people are not infectious after that time period.
The aim is to protect elderly and vulnerable people and to reduce the peak of the epidemic, Johnson said.
Even people with mild symptoms have the potential to spread the virus, health advisers warned. People with minor symptoms are urged against calling NHS 111 and have instead been to told access support online.
The prime minister said people over the age of 70 and those with pre-existing conditions shouldn’t go on cruises. Plus, all school trips abroad have been banned. Johnson said that schools won’t be closed nor will mass gatherings be cancelled.
Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser to the government, confirmed that “none of us” have immunity to Covid-19 and added that between 5,000 to 10,000 people in the UK could be infected.
How will the ‘delay’ phase help deal with the outbreak?
The goal of the delay phase is to slow the rate of coronavirus being contracted and allow the NHS to clear the annual winter pressure it faces.
It would also provide a buffer to allow a possible vaccine to be developed, although this would not come into use for at least a year.
The government’s planning document explained: “The benefits are that if the peak of the outbreak can be delayed until the warmer months, we can reduce significantly the risk of overlapping with seasonal flu and other challenges, societal or medical, that the colder months bring.
“The delay phase also buys time for the testing of drugs and initial development of vaccines and/or improved therapies or tests to help reduce the impact of the disease.”
What do they mean by social restrictions?
According to the government’s published action plan, the restrictions being considered would have “social costs”.
These are thought to include urging employees to work from home where possible and even shutting down schools and cancelling events where masses of people will gather. Although at present, this hasn’t been advised.
“Some of these will have social costs where the benefit of doing them to delay the peak will need to be considered against the social impact,” said the government’s action plan.
Is it the same as what is happening in Italy and China?
The severity of the interventions have differed on a country by country basis.
China and Italy have put full scale lockdowns in place, with court action and fines threatened for people breaking imposed curfews.
Wuhan, the Chinese city of 11 million people, which was at the epicentre of the initial outbreak, temporarily shut down its public transport network.
And in countries such as France and Spain, large public gatherings have been banned in a bid to prevent widespread contamination.
Are sporting events at risk?
Football matches in the European countries, including Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League tie against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday, have been played behind closed doors as a result of bans on gatherings of 1,000 people or more.
But there is doubt about whether the UK would follow suit after the deputy chief medical officer suggested scientific research did not back up the decision to ban public events.
Dr Jenny Harries, in a video exchange with the prime minister on Wednesday, said: “In general, those sorts of events and big gatherings are not seen to be something which is going to have a big effect, so we don’t want to disrupt people’s lives.”
Why is the UK not doing the same as Italy?
Johnson suggested the decisions had come about because “politicians and governments around the world are under a lot of pressure to be seen to act, so they may do things that are not necessarily dictated by the science”.
Why is it taking so long to move from the contain phase to delay?
Ministers have regularly stated that implementing tough social clampdowns too early can prove counterproductive as the public could tire of the restrictions, but it appears Johnson and his advisers feel the time is right to escalate delay preparations.
Current advice, including washing hands and catching coughs and sneezes with tissues before binning them will continue during the delay period, as will trying to find and isolate coronavirus cases at an early stage.