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British manufacturers will be asked to lead a national effort to produce more ventilators © Aleksey Satyrenko/Alamy

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The UK government will ask everyone aged over 70 to self-isolate for up to four months and has called on manufacturers to increase production of ventilators.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said the elderly would be asked to take measures to protect themselves from the virus in “the coming weeks”.

Speaking on Sophy Ridge On Sunday on Sky News, he warned coronavirus would “disrupt the lives of almost everybody” in the UK.

“The thing the NHS needs now more than anything else is more ventilators,” he said. “We’ve been buying as many as we can but we need to produce more too.”

The number of people who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in the UK has reached 1,372, with the number of deaths hitting 35. All of the deaths have been among those with underlying health conditions, or aged over 60

Boris Johnson will host a conference call with British manufacturers on Sunday and urge them to lead a national effort to produce more ventilators.

Mr Hancock said the UK had “around 5,000” ventilators, adding: “We think we need many times more than that and we are saying if you produce a ventilator then we will buy it. No number is too high.”

He added that “anybody who can” should turn production and their engineering “minds” over to the production of ventilators.

Appearing later on The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC, Mr Hancock said the government would introduce emergency legislation through the House of Commons next week to give the authorities the powers they need to force people to self-isolate.

“We are going to take the powers to make sure that we can quarantine people if they are a risk to public health,” he said. “I doubt we will need to use it very much because people are being very responsible and people need to be responsible.”

Mr Hancock also said he could not rule out closing non-essential businesses such as restaurants and bars. Asked if the government could call for non-essential shops to close, he replied: “We haven’t ruled that out, we will do what is necessary.”

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Hancock said: “Our generation has never been tested like this. Our grandparents were, during the second world war, when our cities were bombed during the Blitz. Despite the pounding every night, the rationing, the loss of life, they pulled together in one gigantic national effort.”

Asked on Sky to confirm reports that the over-70s could be asked to stay at home for up to four months, he replied: “That is in the action plan, yes, and we will be setting it out with more detail when it is the right time to do so because we absolutely appreciate that it is a very big ask of the elderly and the vulnerable, and it’s for their own self-protection.”

Asked when such a measure would be introduced, the cabinet minister said: “Certainly in the coming weeks, absolutely.”

While Mr Hancock said ministers were “confident” supermarkets would not run out of food and “the food supply will continue”, he added: “We stand ready to take further measures if that’s necessary.”

The Foreign Office also updated its travel advice for UK citizens planning to travel to the US.

In a handout picture released by the BBC Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock gestures as he speaks to British journalist Andrew Marr (L) during an appearance on the BBC political programme The Andrew Marr Show in London on March 15, 2020. (Photo by JEFF OVERS / BBC / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT " AFP PHOTO / JEFF OVERS-BBC " - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS TO REPORT ON THE BBC PROGRAMME OR EVENT SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION - NO ARCHIVE - NO USE AFTER **APRIL 4, 2020** / (Photo by JEFF OVERS/BBC/AFP via Getty Images)
Matt Hancock, health secretary, discusses the coronavirus crisis on 'The Andrew Marr Show' © BBC/AFP via Getty Images

“We are advising against all but essential travel to the USA following the US government announcement imposing restrictions on travel from the UK and Ireland,” it said in a statement.

The latest measures come after hundreds of scientists and experts challenged the UK government over what they say is its failure to take tough enough measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic, calling for stronger action on “social distancing” to keep people apart.

Britain’s chief scientific adviser stoked controversy on Friday when he said that about 40m people in the UK could need to catch the coronavirus to build up herd immunity and prevent the disease coming back in the future.

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But Mr Hancock told the BBC herd immunity “is not our goal or policy”, adding: “Our policy is to protect lives and to beat this virus.”

Mr Johnson is under increasing pressure to move further into the “delay” phase after other European countries took much tougher measures.

Mr Johnson is poised to ban mass gatherings from next weekend, a policy reversal that came less than 24 hours after he argued that preventing crowds from meeting for big events would not be an effective way to tackle coronavirus.

Cobra, the government’s emergency planning committee, will meet again on Monday to discuss the government’s response. Mr Hancock said the details of new emergency legislation would be set out on Tuesday and introduced to the Commons on Thursday.

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