Home Coronavirus Updates The UK government has moved to ‘delay phase’ but is not banning large-scale gatherings

The UK government has moved to ‘delay phase’ but is not banning large-scale gatherings

by Saul Leese

Following the latest Cobra meeting just moments ago (Thursday 12 March), and on the advice of the CMO, the UK government has decided not to ban large-scale gatherings despite moving to the ‘Delay Phase’.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said: “We are considering the question of banning major public events such as sporting fixtures, the scientific advise we have received over the last couple of weeks, is that banning such events will have little effect on the spread. But there is also the issue of such a burden of events can place on public services and I’ve been discussing this issue with all colleagues across the United Kingdom and I will have more to say shortly about the timing of further action in that respect.”

The Delay phase – actions to date (Click here to see the government strategy – it may be updated following the announcement).

Many of the actions involved in the Contain phase also act to help Delay the onset of an epidemic if it becomes inevitable. These include case finding and isolation of early cases.

Many of the actions that people can take themselves – especially washing hands more; and the catch it, bin it, kill it strategy for those with coughs and sneezes – also help in delaying the peak of the infection.

Our experts are considering what other actions will be most effective in slowing the spread of the virus in the UK, as more information about it emerges. 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. The best possible scientific advice and other experts will inform any decision on what will be most effective.

Delaying the spread of the disease requires all of us to follow the advice set out below. The benefits of doing so 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. There is therefore a strong dependency between the different elements of our approach.

Who advises the government?

The UK government and the devolved administrations have ensured that all of our actions are based on the best possible evidence, and are guided by the 4 UK CMOs.

The UK health departments’ preparations and response are developed with expert advice, ensuring that staff, patients and the wider public can be confident that our plans are developed and implemented using the best available evidence. These groups include:

  • the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) – chaired by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser and co-chaired by the CMO for England – provides scientific and technical advice to support government decision makers during emergencies, ensuring that timely and co-ordinated scientific advice is made available to decision makers to support UK cross-government decisions in the UK Cabinet Office Briefing Room
  • the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) is an expert committee of DHSC and advises the CMOs and, through the CMOs, ministers, DHSC and other government departments, and the devolved administrations. It provides scientific risk assessment and mitigation advice on the threat posed by new and emerging respiratory virus threats and on options for their management
  • the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) provides independent scientific advice to the Health and Safety Executive, to ministers in DHSC and DEFRA, and to their counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on all aspects of hazards and risks to workers and others from exposure to pathogens
  • the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) gives expert advice to DHSC and wider UK government and the devolved administrations on scientific matters relating to the UK’s response to an influenza pandemic (or other emerging human infectious disease threats). The advice is based on infectious disease modelling and epidemiology
  • the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advises UK health departments on immunisation
  • FCO Travel Advice is informed by PHE and DHSC advice and gives British nationals advice on what they need to know before deciding whether to travel and what to do if they are affected by an outbreak of COVID-19 while travelling

The actions we are taking to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak are being informed by the advice of these committees.

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