Home testing is being rolled out in a desperate bid to delay any coronavirus outbreak until after the NHS’s crippling winter overload.
Nurses and paramedics will visit people with symptoms so they do not have to travel, reducing the risk of the Covid-19 infection spreading in the busiest period for medics.
The scheme comes as more school pupils are in isolation after feeling unwell upon returning from Italy, where coronavirus has killed 12 people.
And a business expert warned fears of UK towns going into a lockdown like in Italy could spark a stockpiling frenzy.
Spooked mums yesterday spoke of stockpiling medicines, food, nappies, water and pet food online, including on the popular Mumsnet site.
Ratula Chakraborty, professor of business management at the University of East Anglia, said: “With coronavirus cases increasing and quarantine measures being ramped up, inevitably some anxious households will begin stocking food, medicines and other storable essentials.
“The prospect of towns being in lockdown and shops closed is heightening fear and stockpiling may become rife.”
Revealing the home testing plans, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We now have testing sites at all A&E facilities, as far as we know, across England. We’re also planning to introduce home testing and some of this has started already so people don’t have to go to the pods in front of A&E.”
Until yesterday, home testing was only being piloted in London.
Prof Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, said: “Many of the things we would do to contain the virus are also the things you do to delay the onset of an epidemic. If we are to have an epidemic, having the peak outside of the winter pressure season for the NHS is going to be a very big win for us.”
Ministers are considering a worst-case scenario that 50 million people here could catch the bug and it could kill 500,000 – mainly the elderly and those already unwell.
On the Continent, a 60-year-old man became the first French citizen killed by the virus yesterday and a new case took the country’s tally to 18.
Germany has been hit by new cases that can no longer be traced to the virus’s original source in China, Health Minister Jens Spahn said yesterday. Five victims were confirmed – taking its total to 20 and meaning the disease appeared to be moving to a new phase.
Several European countries, along with Algeria in Africa, announced their first cases. Austria, Croatia, Switzerland and Algeria said their victims were people who had been to Italy.
The news increased fears for Brits abroad after experts said coronavirus will be impossible to contain here if it sweeps mainland Europe.
Brits are among 800 holidaymakers at Tenerife’s H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel, where four people tested positive, were told yesterday they will be trapped there for a fortnight.
Schools in Cheshire, Nantwich, Huddersfield, Newquay, Truro and Middlesbrough have shut doors to staff and children who visited Italy as a precaution.
Cleeve Park School in Sidcup, South East London, advised pupils and staff to stay away yesterday after children fell ill following a skiing trip in northern Italy.
And Ashcroft Technology Academy in Putney, South West London, sent home 26 students and staff just back from the country. Trentham Academy in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs, and Corfe Hills school in Broadstone, Dorset, had two pupils each in isolation after visiting Italy.
Authorities in Italy said on Tuesday night that the number of cases there had grown by 45% in 24 hours. Diagnosed cases have now hit 400.
Next month’s Six Nations rugby clash between Ireland and Italy in Dublin was yesterday postponed amid the crisis. And England’s clash with Italy in Rome on March 14 is thought to be under threat. Commenting in the Commons, Mr Hancock said: “I’ll ensure we get the best clinical advice and join up with the Republic.”
Updating MPs on coronavirus more widely, the he said 7,132 people here have so far been tested. Of these, 13 have tested positive – of whom eight have been discharged from hospital.
Mr Hancock added: “We have a clear, four-part plan to respond to the outbreak of this disease: contain, delay, research and mitigate.”
The worst-case scenario estimate of 500,000 deaths comes in a paper from the National Security Communications Team. It said: “For the UK, this could involve up to 80% of the population being infected. However, not all of these people will experience symptoms and the vast majority of cases will be mild disease.”
Under this scenario, of those who do develop the symptoms, “2% to 3% will result in a fatality”.