UK has 8,000 ventilators and another 8,000 on the way, junior minister says

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain currently has about 8,000 ventilators with another 8,000 on order to come into the health system in a week or so, junior health minister Edward Argar said on Thursday.

“That’s 8,000 in and 8,000 being ordered, being manufactured and shipped and they should be coming in stream over the coming week or two and into the future depending on the speed with which we can get them manufactured and installed,” he told BBC TV.

He said other manufacturers had also responded to an urgent appeal to manufacturers to supply the National Health Service with additional ventilators. On Wednesday, vacuum cleaner-maker Dyson, billionaire founder James Dyson said the government had ordered 10,000 units from his company.

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UK struggling with coronavirus tests amid global shortage

LONDON (Reuters) – Testing as many people as possible for the coronavirus is vitally important but a global shortage of the materials needed is causing a supply bottleneck, British medical authorities said on Wednesday.

Not all staff working within Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) are being tested, a major concern for health workers and a cause of mounting criticism of the government’s response.

“We do not have sufficient testing and this is a global problem because basically every country is wanting this new test, for a disease that wasn’t actually being tested for anywhere three months ago,” said Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, at a news conference.

“There is a global shortage and that’s a bottleneck for us,” he said, speaking alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street.

Taking questions from reporters by a video link, Johnson batted away a series of criticisms on the clarity of his advice to the public, his efforts to help self-employed people, and the speed with which he had acted to stem the spread of the virus.

One reporter asked simply: “Can you honestly say that the government is coping?”

Johnson replied: “We will cope and we are coping, very well indeed under the most challenging possible circumstances,” adding that the government had moved with extraordinary speed to prop up the economy.

“I genuinely don’t think there’s been a time in our history in the last century … when the government of this country has put its arms around so many people to get us through a very tough time. We will get through it and we will get through it together,” he said.

Britain has bought 3.5 million antibody testing kits – largely used to determine if someone has already had the virus – and is currently making sure they work before distributing them.

Whitty said they will first be used to test health workers, and contradicted a different health official who had earlier said they would be available for the public to buy within days.

On the issue of help for self-employed people, Johnson said that was more complex. The finance minister is expected to announce measures on that topic on Thursday.

Whitty said he was not sure how well the NHS, which struggles with staff shortages at the best of times, would be able to cope.

“This is going to be a close-run thing — we all know that — and anybody who looks around the world can see this is going to be difficult for every health system,” he said.

“We do think that if everybody sticks to staying in your household unless absolutely essential this … will be probably manageable by the NHS but we cannot guarantee that,” he added.

Whitty also said that the modeling being used by the authorities was based on the assumption that a lot of people would still have to go to work, despite government orders that people should stay at home unless it was absolutely necessary to leave.

The government appealed on Tuesday for 250,000 volunteers to help the health service cope with the crisis, and Johnson said on Wednesday 405,000 had already come forward.

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Britain's NHS could be overwhelmed like Italy, PM Johnson warns on coronavirus

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) could be “overwhelmed” by the coronavirus like the Italian health system in just two weeks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned.

The death toll in Italy reached almost 5,000 on Saturday, while in the UK it hit 233.

In comments carried in the Sunday Telegraph and other Sunday newspapers, Johnson again urged Britons to stay at home to stop the spread of the virus.

“Unless we act together, unless we make the heroic and collective national effort to slow the spread – then it is all too likely that our own NHS will be similarly overwhelmed,” he said.

“The Italians have a superb health-care system. And yet their doctors and nurses have been completely overwhelmed by the demand,” Johnson noted.

He advised people to keep away from elderly parents on Mothering Sunday (March 22).

“The single best present that we can give … is to spare them the risk of catching a very dangerous disease,” he said.

Earlier, Britain urged 1.5 million people identified by the NHS as being at higher risk of severe illness if they contract coronavirus to not leave their homes to protect themselves.

On Friday, Johnson effectively closed down the United Kingdom, ordering pubs, restaurants, theaters, cinemas and gyms to shut their doors to fight the virus.

Stores are also starting to shut.

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Shame on you, Britain tells coronavirus panic-buyers

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain on Saturday told people who were panic-buying and hoarding food due to the coronavirus outbreak to calm down, pointing to a video on social media showing an exhausted nurse driven to tears by finding shelves bare after her shift.

Shoppers have been emptying the shelves in many supermarkets over the past week, with some wrestling over toilet roll and others hoarding everything from pasta to frozen peas as the government told people to stay home and avoid contact.

A billion pounds ($1.2 billion) of extra food have been squirreled away over the past three weeks, putting massive pressure on supermarkets, environment and food minister George Eustice said.

At a news briefing, he urged people to “be responsible when you shop and think of others”.

“There is more than enough food to go round and our food supply chain is able to expand production to cope with increased demand,” he said.

“Buying more than you need means that others may be left without, and it is making life more difficult for those front-line workers such as our doctors and nurses and NHS (National Health Service) support staff.”


Despite such appeals, not least from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and major supermarkets, shelves of meat, pasta, tinned goods and toilet roll were empty on Saturday in some London supermarkets. Some had brought in extra guards and set up special queuing zones.

The government has set aside rules restricting deliveries to supermarkets to help stores cope with increased demand.

It has also set aside competition rules so that supermarkets can share staff and delivery vehicles and coordinate opening times to ensure that every part of the UK is properly supplied.

The video posted by the critical care nurse has been shown on BBC national news.

“Frankly we should all be ashamed that that has to happen,” said NHS medical director Stephen Powis. “It’s unacceptable. These are the very people that we will all need to look after perhaps us or our loved ones in the weeks ahead.”

Eustice said that, in the last week, manufacturers had produced around 50% more food than they usually would.

“We don’t think there is a risk of food running out,” he said. “The challenge we have is getting food to the shelves and keeping it there.” ($1 = 0.8578 pounds)

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The United Kingdom is closed: Johnson shutters pubs and restaurants

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson effectively closed down the United Kingdom on Friday, ordering pubs, restaurants, theaters, cinemas and gyms to shut their doors in a bid to slow down the accelerating spread of the coronavirus.

As the coronavirus outbreak sweeps across the world, governments, companies and investors are grappling with the biggest public health crisis since the 1918 influenza pandemic, panicked populations and imploding financial markets.

Johnson said he understood just how wrenching it was to take away the ancient rights of the British people to go to the pub but that it was absolutely essential to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“I do accept that what we’re doing is extraordinary: we’re taking away the ancient, inalienable right of free-born people of the United Kingdom to go to the pub, and I can understand how people feel about that,” Johnson said. “It’s a huge wrench.”

“It’s a huge wrench to do that, everybody understands that,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to think of the businesses that will face difficulties as a result of the measures this country has had to take.”

The United Kingdom so far has 3,983 confirmed cases of coronavirus, after 66,976 people were tested, though the government’s scientists say it is raging across London, partly as some people are not obeying government advice to isolate.

At total of 177 people with the virus have died so far across the country.

Johnson said pubs, restaurants, theaters, nigthtclubs, cinemas and gyms and leisure centers were being asked to close on Friday night and to stay shut indefinitely.

“We are telling cafes, bars and restaurants to close tonight as soon as they reasonably can and not to open tomorrow,” Johnson told reporters in Downing Street. “Though to be clear, they can continue to provide takeout services.

“Some people may of course be tempted to go out tonight, and I say to those people, ‘please don’t,’” Johnson said.

The government also announced that a military veterans’ parade in London to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two in Europe (VE Day) in May would be canceled.

New plans to mark the occasion would be unveiled shortly.

Johnson’s finance minister Rishi Sunak also launched a gigantic stimulus package to stabilize Britain’s virus-hit economy on Friday, including the government paying the wages of workers up and down the country. [L8N2BD2UN]

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British public unprepared for BoE rate cut: survey

LONDON (Reuters) – Almost none of the British public surveyed by the Bank of England last month expected it would soon need to cut interest rates, a BoE report showed on Friday.

Just 6% of the public polled in February expected the BoE would need to cut interest rates over the coming year, while 39% predicted a rise, according to a quarterly survey, the same figure as in November.

So far this month the BoE has made two emergency cuts to interest rates to soften the blow from the coronavirus, taking the official cost of borrowing down to 0.1% from 0.75%.

Public expectations for inflation over the next year and next five years also dropped in February.

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UK must move fast to help companies and workers: OBR's Bean

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s government needs to move fast to help companies and reduce job losses as the coronavirus spreads, one of the country’s independent budget forecasters said on Thursday.

“The one thing … I think would be mistaken would be to hold up providing the necessary, immediate assistance which is required to business, and also to keep people in jobs, in order to hang lots of additional conditions,” Charlie Bean, a member of the Office for Budget Responsibility, told BBC radio.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak has announced a range of measures to help companies and he said on Wednesday that the government was moving quickly to provide more support for workers.

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