The coronavirus Delay Phase explained as UK government moves into second stage of action plan

Friday, 13th March 2020, 10:30 am
Updated Friday, 13th March 2020, 10:53 am

With coronavirus continuing to spread across the UK, and the globe, the UK government is officially moving from the Containment Phase into the Delay Phase, the second step in its action plan to combat the virus.

This is everything you need to know about the Delay Phase, what action to expect from the UK government and when the virus might peak.

What is the Delay Phase?

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The Delay Phase is part of a four-step plan from the government to tackle the outbreak of Covid-19, which is spreading rapidly throughout the UK.

Containment was the first stage, during which officials aimed to seek out and isolate early cases of the virus and those who have been in contact with infected patients. This phase was focused on preventing the virus from spreading further across the country.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said it was “optimistic” to believe that the efforts to contain the spread of the virus could have been successful.

Talking to the House of Commons health committee, Professor Whitty said: “We have moved from a situation where we are mainly in contain, with some delay built in, to we are now mainly delay.”

The Delay Phase is designed to slow the spread of the virus - the government believes that if the peak phase of the virus can be delayed to the summer months, that would prove beneficial.

On 3 March, the government published its coronavirus action plan, a 28-page document outlining what the public could expect from the government as the virus continues to spread.

The document said: “Health services are less busy in the summer months when flu and other winter bugs are not driving GP consultations and hospital admissions. In the 2009 ‘swine flu’ pandemic, school holidays significantly slowed transmission of the virus.”

The guide says that “lessons learned from previous outbreaks provide a useful starting point for the development of an effective response plan to COVID-19”.

What to expect in the Delay Phase

The document is called ‘Coronavirus: action plan’, and explains what the government has already done during the outbreak, and what the next steps will be if it continues to spread.

Regarding the Delay Phase, the document said: “In the event of the outbreak worsening, or a severe prolonged pandemic, the response will escalate, and the focus will move from Contain to Delay, through to Mitigate.

“During this phase the pressures on services and wider society may start to become significant and clearly noticeable.”

The document goes on to explain that there will be increased publicity about the need for good hygiene measures, and “further promote the need for people with symptoms to stay at home for the full duration of their illness”.

Other measures outlined in the document included the possible decisions to increase “population distancing strategies”, such as:

School closuresEncouraging working from homeReducing the number of large scale gatherings

The document says: “The effectiveness of these actions will need to be balanced against their impact on society.”

These are the symptoms of coronavirus (Photo WHO)

Peak phase

It’s been estimated that cases of the virus could peak in May or June, according to Wales’ chief medical officer, reported the BBC.

Dr Frank Atherton said his “best guess” would be that cases would continue to grow from April, followed by six to eight weeks of a significant increase with the peak occurring around May and June before finally seeing a downturn.

The UK government said that up to one in five workers could be off sick with COVID-19 at the same time as the peak of the epidemic.

What are the next steps in the government plan?

With the Containment Phase behind us and the government moving into the Delay Phase, there are two further phases the government has in place.

The Research Phase aims to better understand the virus and what protocol will help lessen its impact on the UK population.

The document says that the government wants to “innovate responses including diagnostics, drugs and vaccines” and develop the “most effective models of care”.

The Mitigate Phase looks to provide the best care possible for those who have become ill, supporting hospitals to maintain essential services and “ensure ongoing support for people ill in the community”.

Minimising the overall impact of the disease on society, public services and the economy is a priority in this phase.