The PM called on the public to join a “heroic and collective national effort” and follow social distancing advice.
The total number of people who have died in the UK with coronavirus rose to 233 on Saturday, as confirmed cases surpassed 5,000.
It coincides with the NHS sharing plans to write to 1.5 million people most at risk.
Those deemed most at-risk will receive letters or text messages strongly advising them not to go out for 12 weeks to protect themselves, the government said.
The list includes people:
– Who have received organ transplants, or,
– Are living with severe respiratory conditions such as cystic fibrosis or specific cancers, such as blood or bone marrow.
In a message to the country on Saturday evening, Boris stated:
“The numbers are very stark, and they are accelerating.
“The Italians have a superb health care system. And yet their doctors and nurses have been completely overwhelmed by the demand.
“The Italian death toll is already in the thousands and climbing. 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.”
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He went on to say that the UK is only “2 or 3” weeks behind Italy, adding that he recognised the government was imposing measures “never seen before either in peace or war” – but said they were absolutely essential.
‘Cannot sugar-coat threat’
As families wake up to celebrate Mother’s Day today, Mr Johnson said the best gift for mothers was to stay away from them.
It comes the day after the government told all restaurants, cafes and pubs, gyms and cinemas – to close.
“This time, the best thing is to ring her, video call her, Skype her, but to avoid any unnecessary physical contact or proximity,” the PM said.
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“And why? Because if your mother is elderly or vulnerable, then I am afraid all the statistics show that she is much more likely to die from coronavirus, or Covid-19. We cannot disguise or sugar-coat the threat.”
When Mr Johnson was asked on Friday whether he would be visiting his own mother, who is 77. He replied saying that he would “certainly be sending her my very best wishes and hope to get to see her“.
A Downing Street source later said his contact with his mother on Sunday would be over Skype.
Dr Paul Johnstone, from Public Health England, said: “The NHS are contacting the people who are most vulnerable to developing a very serious illness as a result of Covid-19 with specific advice to stay at home for at least 12 weeks.
“If you receive a letter it is vitally important that you act on it for your own protection, don’t attend any gatherings of friends or families and don’t go out for shopping, leisure or travel.”
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, emphasised the PM’s call for social distancing, and described the covid-19 pandemic as the “biggest health, social and economic emergency we have faced since the second world war“.
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The most recent 53 deaths in England were people aged 41 to 94 who had underlying health conditions, the NHS said.
In the last 48 hours, 1000’s of previously retired medics have responded to the government’s call to return to work to help with the outbreak – including 4,000 nurses and 500 doctors.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock paid tribute to the “brilliant support“, but said the health service needed “many more” medical workers.
“The whole country needs the NHS right now. And if you’re a retired doctor or a retired nurse, then your NHS needs you.”
Yesterday, the NHS also announced it had struck a deal with private hospitals to get hold of thousands of extra beds, ventilators and medical staff.
The agreement will see the private sector reallocate almost its entire national hospital capacity to the NHS. Under the terms of the deal, the private sector will be reimbursed at cost, meaning no profit will be made for doing so.