The UK’s coronavirus death toll has risen further as Boris Johnson urged people not to visit family on Mother’s Day, and for those at highest risk to stay at home for at least 12 weeks.
The deaths of another seven patients in Wales brought the nationwide total to 240 on Sunday.
It came as a Cabinet minister warned the Government will look at “other options” if people ignore advice on social distancing to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said people need to realise it “isn’t a game”, after reports of crowds flocking to seaside resorts at the weekend.
He told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: “It is very serious.
“People need to follow that (medical) advice. If people don’t follow that advice then clearly we’ll have to consider other options, but none of us want to go down that route.”
Mr Jenrick said people can still go out for walks and take exercise, but they should stay away from others.
Meanwhile, the Government has released a list of the people most vulnerable to the virus, who are being asked to shield themselves from it by staying at home.
Some 1.5 million people in England will be sent letters “strongly advising” them not to go out for at least 12 weeks from Monday.
Recipients will include people who have received organ transplants, those with respiratory conditions such as cystic fibrosis and severe chronic bronchitis (COPD), and with some cancers such as those of the blood or bone marrow.
They also include some – though not all – patients receiving certain types of drug treatments, including those which suppress the immune system and leave the body less able to fight off the virus.
Where possible, those affected will receive regular text messages containing advice and guidance on how to manage their condition while at home, including having prescriptions delivered and accessing support for daily living.
Those living with them are urged to “stringently” minimise any personal contact.
The Prime Minister has warned the Covid-19 outbreak is “accelerating”.
The Government has also announced a new local support system to ensure people self-isolating at home without support networks can have basic groceries delivered.
Military planners, already helping councils and local resilience forums in their responses to the outbreak, have been centrally involved in setting up the new network.
In a stark message to the country, Mr Johnson said the NHS is in danger of being “overwhelmed” in the same way as the Italian healthcare system unless people heed Government advice on “social distancing”.
His message follows Friday’s announcement that all pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres are to shut in the latest move to combat the virus.
The Prime Minister acknowledged the Government is imposing measures “never seen before either in peace or war”, but said they are essential as the outbreak gathers pace.
He said: “The numbers are very stark, and they are accelerating. We are only a matter of weeks – two or three – behind Italy. The Italians have a superb healthcare system. And yet their doctors and nurses have been completely overwhelmed by the demand.
“The Italian death toll is already in the thousands and climbing. Unless we act together, unless we make the heroic and collective national effort to slow the spread – then it is all too likely that our own NHS will be similarly overwhelmed.”
Downing Street dismissed a report Mr Johnson had only ordered the measures after French President Emmanuel Macron threatened to block all travellers coming from the UK if he did not act.
The French newspaper Liberation said that in a telephone call on Friday morning, the president had warned the rest of the EU would follow suit unless Mr Johnson abandoned his policy of “benign neglect”.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: “As the PM said on Friday, these new measures were taken based on scientific advice and following the Government’s action plan set out two weeks ago.”
Speaking about this weekend, Mr Johnson said while “everyone’s strongest instinct” is to visit their family on Mother’s Day, the best present anyone can give their mother is to stay away and minimise the risk of infection.
“This time the best thing is to ring her, video call her, Skype her, but avoid any unnecessary physical contact or proximity,” he said.
“And why? Because if your mother is elderly or vulnerable, then I am afraid all the statistics show that she is much more likely to die from coronavirus, or Covid-19. We cannot disguise or sugar-coat the threat.”
Meanwhile, a group of almost 4,000 NHS workers has written to Mr Johnson to ensure they have adequate protective equipment to deal with the coronavirus crisis.
The group of front-line staff said many medical workers are “putting their lives on the line every day” by treating coronavirus patients without appropriate protection, and they called on the PM to ensure an adequate supply of masks, safety glasses, gloves, aprons and protective suits.