Everyone in the UK should stop “non-essential contact” with others, avoid “unnecessary travel” and avoid pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues, the Prime Minister has said.
Giving his first daily press conference on the coronavirus outbreak, Boris Johnson also said from now on, entire households should stay at home for 14 days if even one person living there develops Covid-19 symptoms.
Those are a high temperature or a new, continuous cough.
It comes after Scotland confirmed 171 cases of the virus on Monday, while there are more than 1500 across the UK and 53 deaths – up from 35 the day before.
Johnson called on people to start working from home “where they possibly can” and added that by the weekend, groups particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 will be “shielded” from contact for 12 weeks.
The most vulnerable groups are considered to be over-70s, people with underlying health conditions and, newly included as a precaution, pregnant women.
Speaking shortly after Johnson’s press conference in Westminster, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon echoed the measures he announced following a joint COBR meeting between all the UK governments on Monday afternoon.
The First Minister said: “I don’t mean to be trite or cliched when I say, we are all in this together.”
“We can get through this and we will get through this,” she added.
It comes as the Treasury confirmed the Scottish Government will receive an additional £780m to fund its coronavirus response.
The Prime Minister said there is now need for “drastic action” to prevent a rapid acceleration of coronavirus cases, amid expert fears they could double roughly every five or six days.
Speaking in London, Johnson said that according to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) “it looks as though we are now approaching the fast growth part of the upward curve” in the number of cases.
The PM continued that “if you or anyone in your household” has one of the two symptoms – a high temperature or continuous cough – “you should stay at home for 14 days”.
He explained: “That means that if possible you should not go out, even to buy food or essentials, other than for exercise and in that case at a safe distance from others.”
In a dramatic escalation of the UK’s joint response to the virus, Johnson said that even those without symptoms needed to take extra action.
He said: “Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel.”
“You should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues,” Johnson added.
The PM went on to say that “by this coming weekend it will be necessary to go further and to ensure that those with the most serious health conditions are largely shielded from social contact for around 12 weeks…
“We want to ensure that this period of shielding, this period of maximum protection, coincides with the peak of the disease and it is now clear that the peak of the epidemic is coming faster in some parts of the country than in others.”
He cited London as an example, saying it is a “few weeks ahead” of other parts of the country in terms of Covid-19’s spread.
The Prime Minister also made clear the UK Government would no longer support mass gatherings with emergency workers, following earlier guidance in Scotland to call off such events.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s headquarters in Edinburgh, Sturgeon said the new measures being brought in across the UK to tackle the spread of coronavirus would “change life as we know it”.
She said: “What we are asking people now to do will significantly and substantially change life as we know it for a significant period of time.
“We are all in this together. If we do the right things, if we all follow the advice that is being given we can get through this and we will get through this.”
The First Minister urged everyone in Scotland to ramp up their efforts to “socially distance” from one another to halt the spread of coronavirus.
She stressed that there is not yet a blanket ban on schools in Scotland, without children not considered significantly at-risk from coronavirus – but added this advice could change rapidly.
She urged people to begin working at home where possible and asked that they stop going to places with a high concentration of people such as pubs or cinemas.
Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood indicated that preventative measures could be in place for “several months” to prevent the spread of the disease.
Dr Calderwood said: “We have in Scotland sustained evidence of community transmission of the virus here.
“The measures that we are outlining are to prevent the spread of this virus and to protect our whole population.”
She said it is aimed at preventing NHS services from becoming overwhelmed.
Most of those who contract the virus are expected to have either mild or moderate symptoms, but Dr Calderwood warned that “some of our Scottish population will become very severely ill and sadly some may die”.
Very vulnerable people with compromised immune systems – estimated to be around 200,000 in Scotland – will be asked to self-isolate for a “period of weeks or months”, the chief medical officer added.