Johnson says 405,000 have volunteered to help health service

Pedestrians in masks walk along Westminster Bridge with the London Eye in the backgroud, in a quiet central London on March 25, 2020. (AFP Photo)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that more than 400,000 people had volunteered to help the National Health Service (NHS) cope with the coronavirus crisis within 24 hours of a government appeal for volunteers.

"I also want to offer a special thank-you to everyone who has now volunteered to help the ," Johnson said during a news conference.

"When we launched the appeal last night we hoped to get 250,000 volunteers over a few days, but I can tell you that in just 24 hours, 405,000 people have responded to the call."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the recruits were to be "people in good health to help the NHS, for shopping, for the delivery of medicines and to support those who are shielding to protect their own health."

Johnson's press conference came as the 's emergency bill, which gave it powers to ban large gatherings and forcibly quarantine infected people, was passed by parliament and given royal assent, thus becoming law.

A representative of Public Health England told parliament earlier in the day that self-testing kits for the coronavirus could be ready as early as next week and that the government has ordered millions of them. The tests require only a drop of blood to carry out an analysis.

At the daily press conference, the chief medical officer and chief scientific advisor clarified that the tests would be examined for accuracy first, and then frontline healthcare workers would be prioritized for testing, and only then would the tests be introduced to the wider public and data collected.

The existence of such a test would enable people, including NHS workers in self-isolation, to return to work quicker.

At a lobby briefing for journalists also earlier in the day at Downing Street, the prime minister's spokesman said 's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) had set up a taskforce to investigate profiteering from the outbreak. The CMA has the power to impose serious fines, and the government was considering laws to ban outright profiteering from the coronavirus.

Both the spokesman and later the prime minister himself, at his daily press conference, confirmed that Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak will announce measures Thursday to financially assist the self-employed.

The issue has been controversial in recent days as previous economic measures have largely been targeted at those in formal employment, leaving behind many self-employed who could feel the need to continue going to work as opposed to staying at home.

The Guardian reported that the deputy ambassador to Hungary, Steven Dick, 37, died from coronavirus in Budapest on Tuesday. He had worked with the Foreign Office since 2008 and previously served in Kabul and Riyadh.

"I am desperately saddened by the news of Steven's death, and my heart goes out to his parents Steven and Carol. Steven was a dedicated diplomat and represented his country with great skill and passion. He will be missed by all those who knew him and worked with him," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.

UK outlook so far

Professor Neil Ferguson, a British epidemiologist at Imperial College London, gave evidence to Parliament's science committee earlier in the day, in which he said the NHS could now cope with the expected surge in coronavirus cases.

"There will be some areas that are extremely stressed, but we are reasonably confident -- which is all we can be at the current time -- that at the national level, we will be within capacity," he said.

"If the current measures work as we would expect them, then we will see intensive care demand peak in approximately two to three weeks and then decline thereafter.

"The reason for that lag is because it takes people something like two to three weeks from being infected to being in an intensive care unit. So the measures put in place last week, intensified this week, we think will have had a significant effect on transmission. But it takes that time for it to propagate through to healthcare demand," he said.

He added that he expected up to 10% of London's population to be infected and that it was "plausible" that like other coronaviruses, transmissions could be reduced in the summer by around 10% to 20%.

He warned, however, that "the long-term exit from this is clearly the hopes around a vaccine."

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