LONDON – Two days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a blockade on Britain to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the government has recruited an army of more than 400,000 volunteers to help quarantined older people in their homes as well like the beleaguered public health system. .
The recruiting campaign, which drew nearly twice its goal in less than 24 hours, was one of several rays of hope in a country that has been preparing for an avalanche of infections. Authorities also expressed cautious optimism that the National Health Service could face the avalanche of patients now that Britain has adopted extensive measures of social distancing from other European countries.
"This is going to be very close," said Chris Whitty, the country's chief medical officer, at a Downing Street press conference with Johnson. "This gap will probably be manageable by the N.H.S., but we cannot guarantee that."
The statement was a surprising change from last week, when outside officials and experts warned that Britain was on track to become the next Italy, with increasing numbers of cases flooding hospitals. It was also evidence that Britain, which only reluctantly accepted the isolation measures of Italy, France and Spain, was coming together to face a national challenge.
The government moved to fix one of its weaknesses, widespread testing, by announcing plans to buy 3.5 million test kits that would allow people to test at home. The tests, which officials said would be available on Amazon or Boots pharmacies, would allow doctors and nurses to work more safely.
None of these developments will save Britain a heartbreaking few weeks as the trajectory of cases increases sharply.
The country was rocked by news Wednesday that Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth II's eldest son and heir to the throne, He had tested positive for the virus and was experiencing mild symptoms. Charles, 71, last met with the queen on March 12, just a day before medical experts said he may have been infected with the virus. Buckingham Palace said the 93-year-old queen was healthy.
The British diplomatic service was rocked by the death of one of its rising stars, Steven Dick, 37, from the virus. Mr. Dick served as deputy chief of the British Embassy in Budapest.
"We are going to face, and we are facing the most difficult circumstances," Johnson said. He marveled at the recruiting campaign, which he said had attracted "in one day, as much as the population of Coventry,quot;, a medium-sized city known for its medieval cathedral that was ruined by Nazi bombs in World War II.
The 405,000 volunteers, he said, would provide food and medicine to approximately 1.5 million older and vulnerable people, who have been asked by the government to stay home for 12 weeks. Thousands of retired doctors and nurses have agreed to return to work to strengthen the ranks of the health service.
That, plus the blockade that Britain has adopted, has raised hopes among experts that hospitals will be able to cope. Among them is a leading scientist who warned last week that Britain could face up to 250,000 deaths if steps are not taken to suppress the contagion.
Scientist Neil Ferguson, who heads a team of epidemiologists at Imperial College London, told a parliamentary committee that the measures would prevent the National Health Service from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks.
"There will be areas of the country that are extremely stressed, but we have reasonable confidence, which is all we can be at the moment, that, on a national level, we will be at capacity," Dr. Ferguson told Parliament science. and technology committee.
Other experts were more cautious, noting that Britain has yet to meet countries like South Korea in tests. They noted that the Imperial College had changed its point of view before: it had advised the government on its now discarded strategy of building a "herd immunity "in the population by allowing the virus to spread.
Then two weeks ago, he released a new report, based on statistics from Italy, which had a more alarmist view. Britain, she said, could not allow the virus to spread uncontrollably, and an effective campaign to suppress the virus would take months.
Dr. Ferguson, who later reported suffering from symptoms of the coronavirus himself, shared the findings with the White House, where officials said they played a role in temporarily changing the tone of President Trump.
"It is difficult to judge the accuracy of his statements in the absence of looking at the underlying data and evidence," said Devi Sridhar, director of the global health governance program at the University of Edinburgh.