DOCTORS’ leaders last night pleaded with the public to listen to social distancing advice, and stay at home as efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus intensified.

Professor Ahmet Fuat, Darlington GP and chairman of the town’s primary care network, said he has “never seen such an extraordinary public health emergency”.

Nationally, Dr Tom Dolphin, a spokesman for the British Medical Association (BMA) and a consultant anaesthetist at a central London teaching hospital, said it was likely that intensive care specialists will need to make difficult decisions on who to ventilate as pressure on beds and ventilators accelerates.

Scores of health workers took to social media at the weekend to urge people to obey advice and stay at home.

Prof Fuat said “As a frontline Darlington GP for almost 34 years I have never seen such an extraordinary public health emergency facing us as a health community and nation face with coronavirus (covid-19). GPs like myself are having to make very difficult decisions daily to protect the public, our staff, our families and ourselves, but we are working together as a close GP community in Darlington along with our hospital colleagues to come up with advice for patients and all primary care staff through our Primary Care Network (PCN) and Primary Care Darlington (PHD) GP federation.

The Northern Echo: CONCERNED: Professor Ahmet Fuat

“The main message to the public is to please take the national advice seriously. Coronavirus is easily spread and can kill anyone, although over 60s and those with chronic lung, heart conditions, diabetes, immuno-compromised and others with chronic conditions are more at risk.

"Please everyone socially distance whether or not exposed to the virus (avoid hand shakes, stay at least two metres (six feet) apart, and stay at home if you are sick).

“Social isolation is triggered by a suspected or confirmed diagnosis of covid-19 (this means stay at home and serves to keep the infected away from healthy people in order to stop the spread of the virus).

“Please comply with advice because this will save lives.”

Prof Fuat has added his name to an open letter to the UK government from a series of leading academics and public health officials calling for a lockdown and extensive cod-19 testing.

The letter states: “We urge the UK government to implement an urgent enforced lockdown in the areas highly affected by the virus, while ensuring those most vulnerable in society are fully supported.

"This should be accompanied by building capacity to upscale testing, case isolation, contact tracing and strategies to identify asymptomatic carriers, starting with our dedicated healthcare professionals and then wide-scale community testing, in line with the World Health Organisation’s recommendations.

"Also of utmost urgency and importance is ensuring adequate protective equipment to frontline healthcare staff.”

Meanwhile Dr Dolphin said there was not enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff, despite Government assurances that it is on its way, and called for NHS staff to get tested for coronavirus.