Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) could be “overwhelmed” by the coronavirus like the Italian health system in just two weeks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Sunday in the face of rising numbers of deaths.
The death toll in Italy — the world’s worst-hit country — reached almost 5,000 on Saturday, while in Britain it hit 233.
In a statement released by his office, Johnson again urged Britons to stay at home to stop the spread of the virus.
“The numbers are very stark, and they are accelerating. We are only a matter of weeks — two or three — behind Italy,” he said.
“Unless we act together, unless we make the heroic and collective national effort to slow the spread — then it is all too likely that our own NHS will be similarly overwhelmed.”
Italy overtook China as the country worst affected by the highly contagious virus on Thursday. The Italian government has ordered that all businesses must close until April 3 in its latest desperate effort to halt the epidemic.
Johnson’s government has rapidly stepped up warnings and actions to combat the virus over the past week.
It has closed schools for most pupils, told pubs and restaurants to shut and asked people to avoid unnecessary social interactions - seeking to slow the rise of cases and enable intensive care units in the state healthcare system to cope with the epidemic.
On Saturday the NHS struck a deal with the independent hospital sector, giving it more ventilators and thousands of extra beds and healthcare staff on hand from next week.