Why is Britain so behind other nations in its coronavirus response?

Why is Britain so behind other nations in its coronavirus response?

How the world is responding to coronavirus: Towns on lockdown, schools shut, mass-gatherings banned and increased border checks to battle pandemic… but it’s business as usual in Britain

  • Britain has not yet implemented stringent measures in response to the global coronavirus pandemic 
  • Other countries have brought Draconian measures into force, locking down schools and businesses 
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired an emergency meeting shifting the UK’s tactics to the ‘delay phase’ 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

As the world remains in the grip of a deadly coronavirus pandemic, officials are questioning why Britain has failed to implement similar draconian measures seen in other countries. 

While Italy is in total lockdown, America shuts its doors to travellers from Europe and the streets of China are desolate, the UK appears to be carrying on as normal. 

Donald Trump dramatically escalated the US response to the pandemic, slapping a travel ban on continental Europe. 

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson today chaired an emergency Cobra committee where he declared the UK’s tactics will shift from ‘containing’ the killer disease to merely ‘delaying’ its inevitable spread.

He refused to cancel mass gatherings or close schools, despite the virus expected to peak in the next fortnight.

With the NHS under mounting pressure, the UK’s chief medical officers and officials from the General Medical Council and NHS England have written to doctors saying they may need to work outside their usual area of expertise in the peak of an epidemic.   

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, meanwhile, warned mass gatherings must be cancelled and said she was reviewing school closures. 

But questions still remain as to why the Prime Minister has not implemented any stringent measures in a bid to beat the pandemic. 

Here, we look at how 13 countries around the world have responded to the virus.  

While Italy is in total lockdown, America shuts its doors to travellers from Europe and the streets of China are desolate, the UK appears to be carrying on as normal

On another day of frantic activity by politicians and health experts around the globe: 

  • The PM has chaired the emergency Cobra committee with the UK’s tactics shifting from ‘containing’ the killer disease to merely ‘delaying’ its inevitable spread 
  • No10 has dismissed suggestions they will emulate Ireland, which announced this morning that it will close all schools and colleges
  • Boris Johnson refused to ban mass gatherings, or close schools
  • Mr Johnson asked those with a cold to self-quarantine, and urge vulnerable elderly people to stay indoors 
  • To fight what is now officially a global pandemic, the Budget handed hospitals a £5billion fighting fund 
  • Thousands of firms in the UK will be given a business rates holiday to help avert the risk of bankruptcy


590 cases, ten deaths

Mounting pressure has built on the Government to move quickly to impose similar rules because it is feared the UK is heading the same direction as Italy, where 12,462 cases and 827 deaths have been confirmed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will today hold an emergency meeting and is expected to move the ‘battle plan’ into the next stage.

A total of 590 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Thursday, up from 456 at the same point on Wednesday, the Department of Health said.

And two more patients have died in UK hospitals after testing positive for coronavirus, taking the total to 10, NHS England said.

In Northern Ireland, Stormont ministers will meet in Belfast later to discuss the coronavirus crisis. First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, health minister Robin Swann and chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride are all anticipated to be involved in the discussions. 

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today said large gatherings are to be cancelled in a bid to delay the outbreak of coronavirus.

At First Minister’s Questions, she said it was ‘inappropriate that we continue as normal’ and will recommend the cancellation of gatherings of more than 500 people to protect front-line services.

Ms Sturgeon said she would be advising the cancellations start from Monday.

Commuters on the London Underground are continuing to go about their daily lives amid warnings Britain is on the same trajectory as Italy 


80,793 cases – 3,169 deaths

China’s totalitarian regime has managed to rapidly de-escalate the threat of COVID-19 within its borders. 

China was quick to implement 14-day quarantine for people arriving from overseas, with the most stringent restrictions placed on those coming from countries with severe outbreaks, including Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan.

Its response to the virus included strict social distancing and more than one month of city-wide lockdowns of Wuhan and surrounding areas.

On January 23, the People’s Party imposed movement restrictions on provinces of over 930 million people.

In early February, at least 48 cities and four provinces in China went further, issuing official notices for lockdown policies, with measures ranging from ‘closed-off management’, where residents of a community have to be registered before they are allowed in or out, to restrictions that shut down highways, railways and public transport systems.

Measures included checking the movement of people and vehicles with an exit-entrance permit, checking body temperatures upon entrance to a community, the disinfection of vehicles, food delivery, and permits for only one person per household to leave the property. 

Medical staff disinfect equipment at a ward used to be an isolation ward for patients infected by the COVID-19 coronavirus at a hospital in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province

South Korea

7,869 cases – 67 deaths

South Korea, where the number of new cases has been on the decline, has 50 drive-through screening clinics where people can get a medical exam and have a sample taken in just 10 minutes. 

Health workers understood to be processing up to 15,000 tests every day. 

Authorities are testing hundreds of thousands of people for infections and tracking potential carriers like detectives, using cell phone and satellite technology. It has smartphone alerts about the movements of people who have tested positive.

In addition to helping work out who to test, South Korea’s data-driven system helps hospitals manage their pipeline of cases. 

People found positive are placed in self-quarantine and monitored remotely through a smartphone app, or checked regularly in telephone calls, until a hospital bed becomes available. When a bed is available, an ambulance picks the person up and takes the patient to a hospital with air-sealed isolation rooms. All of this, including hospitalization, is free of charge. 

The country also is subsidizing small- and medium-sized business owners so they can provide flexible work hours to employees who have children home from school, ABC News reports.

Kindergartens and elementary schools are operating ’emergency child care’ for those whose parents are working.

South Korea’s government opted against localised lockdowns, concentrating instead on testing large numbers of people in an attempt to identify infection ‘hotspots’

It also encouraged social distancing, while troops were sent to disinfect the streets.

South Korean soldiers disinfect the street as a precaution against coronavirus in Seoul, South Korea


639 cases – 16 deaths

On Monday, Japan put into place tougher border control measures that essentially ban travelers from China and South Korea until the end of the month.

Visas for people who haven’t yet arrived in Japan are invalidated; people who have already arrived from those countries, whether they are Japanese or foreign nationals, are asked to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

Japan has not yet imposed similar restrictions on travelers from Italy – but health authorities are warning local governments to prepare for a surge in cases.

The health minister says the epidemic in Japan is entering a new phase, which suggests that the country will need to take tougher measures.

Today, Japan’s lower house of parliament endorsed a legislation that will allow Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to declare state of emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The legislation, a revision to add the coronavirus to an existing law enacted for earlier influenza outbreaks, is a controversial one that opponents say could severely limit civil rights, including the right to gather.

The bill, passed by the lower house, is expected to be enacted as early as Saturday after an expected approval by the upper house Friday.

Government officials say there are no immediate plans to declare state of emergency, but if declared, Abe can issue compulsory nationwide school closures and confiscate private property to build hospitals in case there’s a shortage of beds for severely affected patients.

People wearing face masks walk along the Takeshita shopping street in Tokyo, Japan


1,312 cases – 38 deaths 

President Donald Trump has banned all flights from Europe – excluding Britain and Ireland – making it the centre piece of his battle again coronavirus.

He addressed the nation from the Oval Office last night but made no mention of measures being adopted by other countries to stop the spread of the virus within their borders – like closing schools, banning public gatherings and restricting travel between cities.

Instead he said he was ordering an immediate shut-down of all travel from Europe to the United States.

Speaking hours after world health officials declared the coronavirus a pandemic, Trump repeatedly defended his own actions and vowed the nation would prevail in countering the virus and getting treatment on the market.

The ban will apply to travelers who have visited 26 countries in the EU’s Schengen border-free area in the last 14 days but not travelers from the UK or Ireland, or to US citizens, American permanent residents and their immediate family members.

There has been action at state level in the US.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced gatherings should be postponed or canceled across the state until at least the end of March. Non-essential gatherings must be limited to no more than 250 people, while smaller events can proceed only if the organizers can implement social distancing of 6 feet per person.

Gatherings of individuals who are at higher risk for severe illness from the virus should be limited to no more than 10 people, while also following social distancing guidelines.

Other states have issued similar advice.

Santa Clara County, in California, has 48 cases and one death and has banned all gatherings of more than 1,000 people. Violators could face a shutdown by police, as well as possible fines or arrest.

A growing number of colleges and universities across the U.S. have cancelled classes.

Coachella was set to take place next month in the California desert but organiser Goldenvoice has now postponed it until October, at the request of local health authorities. Stagecoch, a country music festival organised by the same company, has also been moved from April to October.

New guidelines also warn residents to postpone or cancel gatherings of more than 250 people, until the end of March.

They warn against gatherings in smaller venues that do not allow for 6 feet of distance between people while groups of high-risk people should be limited to no more than 10 people.

The U.S. Army has also decided to reduce the number of troops taking part in massive war games that have been planned across Europe over the next six months due to the new coronavirus. 

President Donald Trump has banned all flights from Europe – excluding Britain and Ireland – making it the centre piece of his battle again coronavirus


314 cases – three deaths

In Belgium, citizens have been told they should stay home if they develop mild symptoms, with only those considered severe cases to be admitted to hospital. 

School trips have been banned, while people have been advised to work from home. 

Denmark’s Prime Minister announced today that the country will close all kindergartens, schools and universities for two weeks to slow the spread of coronavirus, according to the LocalDk.

All public sector employees who do not perform critical functions will also be sent home on paid leave. Employees in the health sector, the elderly care sector and the police must, however, stay at their posts.

Events involving more than 1,000 people have been cancelled, while there is staggered travel to avoid public transport during rush hour.

All students in higher education are expected to return home as early as Thursday and remain home for two weeks. 

All indoor cultural institutions, libraries and leisure facilities including bars will close from Friday for two weeks while the government is urging churches, mosques and other religious institutions and associations to stay closed.

Shaking hands or kissing is also not advised across Belgium. 

The elderly home La Cambre – Ter Kameren in Watermaal-Bosvoorde – Watermael-Boitsfort, where 34 residents are reported infected by the novel coronavirus, according to the Belgian Ministry of Public Health

Biologist Jerome De Marchin talks to a patient while he sits in his car at a drive-in testing site for coronavirus (COVID-19) at the Regional Hospital Center in Liege, Belgium


43 cases – one death 

Schools, colleges, childcare facilities and cultural institutions in Ireland are to close for two weeks due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the country’s premier has announced today. 

Ireland is closing all schools and cultural institutions until March 29, in a major escalation of its response to the new coronavirus.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced the measures would take effect at 6pm tonight.  

All indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor events with more than 500 are also cancelled.

The Prime Minister made a live statement to the nation from Washington DC, where he is due to meet President Donald Trump later as part of the annual St Patrick’s Day programme of events. 

He said the measures would mean major disruptions but ‘acting together as one nation we can save many lives.’

He said the Government had a duty to protect those at risk categories of people, such as older people and those with underlying conditions. 

The Taoiseach said many more people in Ireland would get the virus and would get sick.

‘Unfortunately we must face the tragic reality that some people will die,’ he said.

Mr Varadkar said he was acting on fresh advice from the country’s National Public Health Emergency Team.

‘The virus is all over the world, it will continue to spread but it can be slowed,’ he said. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Blair House, Washington DC, during a press conference today where he announced that all schools, colleges and childcare facilities in Ireland will close until March 29 as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak


2,078 cases – three deaths

Berlin city authorities have banned all events with more than 1,000 participants until the end of the Easter holidays.

The government has recommended that events with more than 1,000 participants are cancelled. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) have postponed a conference scheduled for April 25 in Berlin to choose a new party leader due to the coronavirus and said it would reschedule as soon as the epidemic allowed.  

Merkel’s governing coalition also agreed to make it easier for companies to claim subsidies to support workers on reduced working hours until the end of the year.

That would make it possible for firms to cut the hours and wages they offered their workers with the government making up nearly two-thirds of the shortfall, sparing workers from layoffs which might otherwise become necessary. 

Public health efforts are now focused on slowing its spread to minimise the peak burden on the healthcare system. 

Social affairs minister Franziska Giffey said the elderly and their families should refrain from hugging or taking public transport.

The southern state of Bavaria has already banned events of more than 1,000 people, and recommended pulling the plug on events with more than 500.

The city of Berlin has called off performances at all opera houses, state theatres and concert halls.

Germany’s top football league, the Bundesliga, announced that for the first time ever, a number of its matches will take place with no fans in attendance.  

German Health Minister Jens Spahn and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a press conference on the coronavirus spread on March 11 in Berlin


12,462 cases – 827 deaths 

Italy put full-scale lockdowns nationwide in place on Monday, with court action and fines threatened for people breaking imposed curfews.

Schools, cafes, hairdressers and restaurants have been closed as 60million residents are told to stay in their homes in ‘social distancing’ measures in order to curb the escalating crisis there.

All domestic sporting events in the country have been suspended until April 3, while schools and universities are closed.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the closure of schools, gyms, museums, nightclubs and other venues across the country.

Bars and restaurants must close by 6pm each day, and malls and supermarkets are closed on weekends.

Moving from one town to another requires signing a police form self-certifying that a person is traveling for work, health or emergency purposes.

Swiss customs authorities have shut down nine border crossings with Italy, the epicentre of Europe’s coronavirus outbreak, to channel border traffic through seven other sites. 

The iconic Trevi Fountain appears completely deserted in Rome, Italy. Many of the country’s world-famous landmarks are deserted as the lockdown continues 


9,000 cases  – 429 deaths

Iran is now the worst infected country in the Middle East and the third worldwide, following China and Italy. 

Public gatherings, including Friday prayers in Tehran and other major cities, have been cancelled.

Schools have been closed and crews of cleaners have been dispatched to disinfect trains, buses and gathering places. 

Authorities have temporarily released around 70,000 prisoners to contain the spread of the illness, according to Middle East Eye, which has now spread to all Iranian cities.

Those released do not include political prisoners.

Members of Iranian government wearing face masks during the cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran yesterday


2,277 cases – 55 deaths

Authorities in regions with the most cases — Madrid, Basque Country and La Rioja — have ordered the closure of all schools, universities and daycare centers for two weeks.

Flights between Spain and Italy have been suspended and large gatherings cancelled in the three regions.

All soccer matches in Spain’s top division, La Liga, have been suspended for two weeks over fears of the spread of the coronavirus Thursday.

Real Madrid have sent all of the members of their soccer and basketball teams home into quarantine after one of the sports club’s basketball players tested positive for the coronavirus, the Spanish club said in a statement today.

The announcement led to all matches in Spain’s top two divisions being postponed for at least two weeks and will almost certainly lead to Real’s Champions League last-16 second leg at Manchester City next Tuesday being postponed too.

Organiser UEFA is yet to make an announcement on the status of the match, while Manchester City and Real did not comment on whether or not the match would take place.

Thursday’s Europa League matches between Sevilla and AS Roma and Inter Milan and Getafe have already been postponed.

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa encouraged companies to reduce working hours and travel and to support remote work.

Workers cleaning a train to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, at Madrid Metro Train Depot in Madrid


2,284 cases – 48 deaths

The country announced a nationwide ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people, with exemptions for things like public transit.

France has requisitioned all of the country’s surgical masks for distribution to those who need them, and the government also has capped the price of hand sanitizer.

The Paris Marathon and a Six Nations rugby match against Ireland have both been postponed until October.

The Local France reports: ‘The government has placed additional restrictions on four zones with clusters of coronavirus cases: ‘Morbihan in Brittany, Haute-Savoie in eastern France near the Swiss border and the départements of Oise and Haut-Rhin in north east France. In these places there is a ban on all public gatherings including markets, community groups and church services.’

President Emmanuel Macron has advised citizens nationwide against visiting older people, to avoid spreading the disease to those most vulnerable.

Schools are closed in the zones Oise and Haut-Rhin. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said last week that France doesn’t want to take a blanket approach to closing schools.

‘We don’t think it’s the appropriate strategy in France’s case,’ Blanquer said. ‘If you’re a nurse with children and you have to stay at home to watch your children who aren’t in school, well then you’re not at the hospital helping those who need it.’ 

The new coronavirus screening unit of the CHU-Pellegrin University Hospital in Bordeaux, France, today


617 cases, 0 deaths 

Denmark’s royal palace said Crown Prince Frederik and his wife will return from Switzerland ‘to be with the Danes’ at this time.

Denmark, which has more than 600 confirmed cases of the virus, today entered a virtual lockdown.

All schools – public and private – and daycare facilities will be closed from Monday, but many students are staying home already. Schools offered to take care of children but said there would be little teaching.

All public servants who do not perform critical functions have been ordered to stay home for the next two weeks. Hospitals and nursing homes have been urged to impose tighter restrictions on visits. All indoor cultural institutions, libraries and leisure facilities are closed.

The restrictions are to continue for two weeks.

Minutes after this was announced late Wednesday by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, people rushed to supermarkets to buy toilet paper and other necessities.

Two of the Danish virus cases are in serious condition and 10 people were hospitalized. 

Denmark’s royal palace said Crown Prince Frederik and his wife will return from Switzerland ‘to be with the Danes’ at this time


Elsewhere in Europe, Norway and Lithuania are shutting down kindergartens, schools and universities for at least two weeks and the Norwegian government says employees at work must be at least one meter apart.

In Oslo, the Norwegian capital, gatherings of more than 50 people were banned. Norway’s royal palace said all official arrangements till early April will either be cancelled or postponed. King Harald V said it’s ‘crucial’ that everyone ‘avoid exposing ourselves or others to infection.’

Lithuania suspended gatherings of more than 100 people and closed museums, cinemas and sports clubs. In the capital of Vilnius, the lockdown was for five weeks.

In Finland, the government recommended banning all events with more than 500 people until end of May. 

The Czech Republic will close its borders to travellers crossing from Germany and Austria and also ban the entry of foreigners coming from other risky countries to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said today.

Czechs will also be barred from travelling to those countries, and to and from and other countries deemed risky, effective from Saturday.

Poland closed all schools, museums and cinemas, while Ukraine’s capital city Kiev will shut all educational buildings due to fears of the virus spreading. 

The Greek Olympic Committee confirmed on Monday that the ceremony would be held without spectators after dozens of people tested positive for COVID-19 across the western Peloponnese. 

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