Here's why Britain could face the same lockdown situation as Italy as coronavirus spreads

As the virus crisis continues to deepen, the UK looks ever more likely to go into full lockdown

Lockdowns in countries like France and Italy have been used to limit the movement of the countries’ populations, with workers being told to stay at home and residents having to apply to make trips.

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Could the same end up happening in the UK?

What other measures could be brought in?

At the time of writing, the government advice is to “avoid” unnecessary social contact and travel.

It had been strongly advised that people also stay away from places in which large numbers of people congregate, like pubs, clubs, restaurants, and theatres.

But as of Friday (20 March), business like these have been ordered to close by the government.

Despite the social distancing advice, it’s been reported that many parks, beaches and other public spaces have been overcrowded over the weekend, with people enjoying the weather much closer together than the suggest two metres apart.

What has happened elsewhere?

Countries like Italy and France have already imposed mandatory lockdowns to help protect their populations from Covid-19.

In Italy, citizens had to make an application to prove that their planned travel was necessary, and in France, only the most essential trips are allowed to be made.

Extra police patrol the streets of cities like Paris, handing out fines of up to €350 (around £330) to those who flout the rules without good reason.

In most countries affected by lockdowns, residents are still allowed out to stock up on supplies from grocery stores, or to exercise – at a safe distance from others.

Could a lockdown happen in the UK?

As the number of coronavirus cases and deaths continue to rise, it’s clear that more dramatic measures may be needed to stem its spread.

And with many flouting the advice put in place by the government, it’s expected that such measures could be in place within the next few days.

It seems likely that the UK could follow the examples set by its European counterparts and introduce tougher controls, and the Government "may have to take further action" if people continue to flout social distancing rules of staying two metres away from each other.

Speaking to Sky News, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "This is not the sort of thing that anybody would want to do but, of course, it is the sort of thing we might have to do in order to protect life.

"If you do go out, you must not get closer than two metres from someone who isn't in your household.

"It is a really simple rule and incredibly important, because to protect life and the NHS we need to stop the spread of this virus and the virus spreads by people coming into close contact with each other."

"Nothing is off the table" in terms of the future action which could be taken, adding: "I do not want to pre-judge the discussions we will have today to make a decision on those things. Ultimately, it is a decision for the prime minister.

"I advise him on what I think needs to happen and I am really clear, people need to stay more than two metres apart. We have got to see that happen because that is the only way to protect life."

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam – leader of the Health Protection Research Group at Nottingham University – told the BBC: "We don't rule out taking further measures if these are necessary but much of this depends on how the next two weeks play out."

Whether any enforced lockdown is applied countrywide or only to major towns and cities, remains to be seen, but government officials are doing everything they can to reassure the public that life will go on as normal for as long as it can, and Downing Street has dismissed suggestions of a travel ban in and around the capital entirely.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “There are no plans to close down the transport network in London and there is zero prospect of any restrictions being placed on travelling in and out of London.”

How long could a lockdown last?

If tougher measures were to be brought in, Professor Van-Tam could not rule out that they may have to last for a year, but predicted they will last at least "several months".

He told Today that more people will encounter the coronavirus and become resistant with so-called herd immunity, but said "that will take time".

"We can't say how long this will need to go on for," he said.

"I don't know if it could be a year yet. I think we are too far out to make those kind of predictions but I certainly think it could be several months."

Will the coronavirus pandemic get worse?

The UK will soon begin to see its coronavirus cases peak in the same way that China has, according to the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jenny Harries.

"If you have a new disease, the normal thing is, it will take off gradually. It will rise very rapidly at one point and come back down again when it effectively runs out of people in the population to infect."

Dr Harries said "many thousands of people" will be infected with coronavirus over the next few weeks as the disease continued to spread.

"Obviously we will have significant numbers in a way in which the country is not used to. This is the sort of thing that professionally we're trained for and very rarely see, almost in a professional lifetime," Dr Harries said.

"Large numbers of the population will become infected because it's a naive population, nobody has got antibodies to this virus currently. We will see many thousands of people infected by coronavirus, that's what we're seeing in other countries and the important thing for us is to make sure that we manage those infections."

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread.

But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets.

Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised.

Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness.

Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly.

The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.

Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Government advice

As of Monday 16 March the government advised that everyone should be observing social distancing - avoiding unnecessary travel and working from home where possible.

Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms now needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.

The government has now instructed bars, restaurants and theatres to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis.

Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.

The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate.

People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake "shielding" for 12 weeks.

For more information on government advice, please check their website.

Should I avoid public places?

The advice now is to avoid public places and any non-essential travel.

Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS