People over the age of 70 - who are the most at risk of contracting and suffering the most serious effects of coronavirus - could soon be told to isolate themselves from all social contact.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said the instructions for members of this age group to self-isolate for an extended period of time could be issued "within the coming weeks".
Govt plans for the elderly
The government is set to publish further advice today (March 16th) relating to social distancing for elderly people, but a formal request for over-70s to self-isolate - regardless of whether or not they have coronavirus symptoms like a high temperature and a persistent cough - isn't expected quite yet.
In an interview on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Mr Hancock said protecting the elderly and vulnerable by asking them to stay indoors - possibly for up to four months - is part of the government's action plan.
"But we do not want formally to say yet that people should do that, and the reason for that is simply the length of time that they would need to stay self-isolated, to stay at home, to protect themselves," he continued.
"It is a very big ask, it's a very long time, and we do know that if you ask people to do this sort of thing, then they can tire of it. We know that it has negative impacts."
More than 40,000 people have been tested for coronavirus in the UK, according to the latest Department of Health figures, with 1,372 confirmed cases.
Individuals with mild symptoms are being told to self-isolate and are no longer being tested. Tests are mainly being given when outbreaks occur in a residential or care setting, or when patients need hospital treatment for pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome or a flu-like illness.
People who are concerned about the welfare of elderly relatives should pass on government and NHS advice to avoid catching or spreading coronavirus. This includes:
- Washing your hands regularly with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds each time
- Using hand sanitiser if soap and water aren't available
- Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
- Putting used tissues straight in the bin and washing your hands afterwards
- Avoiding close contact with people who are unwell
Other government actions
The government is putting various other measures and plans in place to manage the coronavirus outbreak, including asking manufacturing firms to produce medical equipment, such as ventilators, for use on the NHS.
In an attempt to boost capacity across the health service, it's possible that hotels could be converted into makeshift hospitals.
The NHS is set to postpone all non-urgent surgery and retrain medics from other specialisms to treat patients with coronavirus.
Mr Hancock also told the BBC that negotiations were underway with private healthcare providers to make thousands of extra beds available in private hospitals.