Over-60s urged to avoid crowds as coronavirus panic spreads

Health chiefs urge over-60s to avoid crowds and stay away from shops, public transport and GP surgeries as coronavirus panic spreads

  • WHO has told people aged over 60 to avoid crowded areas and public transport
  • It also urged over-60s to skip appointments at doctors’ surgeries and hospitals
  • The advice applies to people of all ages who have serious health conditions 

Everyone aged over 60 is being advised to avoid crowded areas including trains, buses and even supermarkets to prevent catching coronavirus.

The drastic warning was issued by the World Health Organisation, which also urged people in this age group to skip routine appointments at doctors’ surgeries and hospitals.

While infection is far more likely to cause severe illness in the elderly, the advice also applies to people of all ages who have serious health conditions.

Everyone aged over 60 is being advised by the World Health Organisation to avoid crowded areas including trains, buses and even supermarkets to prevent catching coronavirus (pictured, Bournemouth fans wearing protective masks)

WHO’s Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told his half a million Twitter followers yesterday: ‘If you are 60+, or have an underlying condition like cardiovascular disease, a respiratory condition or diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing severe #COVID19. Try to avoid crowded areas, or places where you might interact with people who are sick.’

In other developments yesterday:

  • Three new coronavirus cases were confirmed in the UK, taking the tally to 23;
  • Italy’s death toll leapt to 29, with 1,128 infected;
  • France banned gatherings of more than 5,000 people – and also banished the traditional greeting of kisses on the cheek;
  • The US reported its first fatality – a woman in her 50s – amid signs of person-to-person spread;
  • Officials warned countries may have to introduce China-style mass lockdowns of whole towns;
  • Cases in South Korea rocketed by 813 in a day to 3,150, while Iran said its death toll had reached 43 – although sources said the true number was 210.

Evidence from China shows older people are far more likely to fall seriously ill with coronavirus, with one in seven (15 percent) of those over 80 known to have contracted it dying. By contrast, the average death rate among all confirmed cases is around two per cent.

WHO spokeswoman Dr Margaret Harris said that consequently older people needed to consider changing their day-to-day routines because ‘avoiding catching this virus is the best outcome’. Advising them to stay off tubes, trains and buses, she said: ‘If you are on a transport system, you are likely to be squeezed in with other people.’

While infection is far more likely to cause severe illness in the elderly, the advice also applies to people of all ages who have serious health conditions (pictured, army soldiers wearing protective suits spraying disinfectant in Daegu, South Korea)

Football matches and other sports events were also best avoided because of close proximity to those who might be harbouring the virus. 

People should even think twice about going to busy shops and supermarkets, she said. ‘Rather than going to the shops to get things, think about everything you can order remotely,’ she urged.

While the advice might appear draconian, Dr Harris said droplets containing coronavirus could travel as far as 10ft (3m) from a cough or sneeze – so ideally people should keep that distance from others. 

Instead of going to their GP for routine matters like non-urgent appointments, blood test results and repeat prescriptions, they should use the phone or have a video consultation instead.

‘If you can do a remote consultation, that’s brilliant,’ she said, as surgeries and hospitals were more likely than other places to be visited by those sick with the virus.

However, Dr Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, said WHO’s advice was overly cautious for the UK right now. 

She said: ‘This is sensible advice for these groups in countries that are seeing rapid rises in cases and where the majority are occurring in-country. In the UK, we do not currently have evidence of sustained and widespread transmission within the community – all but one of our cases has travelled overseas.’

She added UK experts were considering what the most appropriate actions for the public to take would be if we start to see more cases passed on within the UK.

In the coming days, Ministers will rush in emergency laws to tackle coronavirus, enabling, for example, lessons to take place outside schools. 

But WHO is pressing countries to go much further, to quarantine whole areas in the event of large-scale outbreaks just as China and Italy are doing. 

In a report published on Friday, WHO said the cordon sanitaire around Wuhan and neighbouring municipalities had ‘effectively prevented further exportation of infected individuals to the rest of the country’.

But WHO warned: ‘Much of the global community is not yet ready, in mindset or materially, to implement the measures that have been employed to contain COVID-19 in China. These are the only measures that are currently proven to interrupt or minimise transmission chains [of coronavirus] in humans.’

Microbiologist Professor Mark Fielder, of Kingston University, said he would back the radical measure if ‘community transmission’ of coronavirus really took off here.

He said: ‘It would be one of the things that would be useful. Because if people are carrying a virus… you want to limit them moving around if they become a threat to wider public health.’

Yet Prof Fielder said there was currently ‘no reason to suggest’ UK authorities could not keep containing coronavirus by isolating cases.

Dr Bharat Pankhania, senior clinical lecturer at Exeter University Medical School, said ‘heavy-handed’ lockdowns should not be used as the economic and social impact was severe. ‘People should be asked to self-isolate,’ he said.

However, the numbers show coronavirus is quickly going global. In the last week, total European cases have shot up from 54 to 1,428.

In more than half of the UK’s confirmed cases – 12 of 23 – the person caught coronavirus in Europe, one of those on UK soil. 

Of the latest three cases, two contracted the virus in Italy and the third in Asia, said Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty.

Meanwhile, Britons at the quarantined H10 Costa Adeje Hotel in Tenerife who test negative for the virus will be free to return to the UK, holiday operator Tui said.

In France, ministers said meetings of more than 5,000 people would be ‘temporarily banned’, meaning today’s Paris half-marathon is cancelled. 

And in the US, a total of 22 people are fighting the virus. Four are ‘very ill’, President Trump said. He added the US government is amassing tens of millions of masks.

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