Smokers are more at risk from Coronavirus, Chief Medical Officer says

Smokers are more at risk from Coronavirus, the Chief Medical Officer for England said today.

Professor Chris Whitty said "if you are going to give up smoking, this is a very good moment to do it."

The medical expert stressed people who smoke should not go into self-isolation or behave differently.

But he said smokers face an "additional vulnerability" compared to other healthy people from respiratory illnesses. In general, he said, "they are more likely to get it and their immune system is less good."

Prof Chris Whitty addressed MPs on the Commons Health Committee as he said authorities are now chiefly in the "delay" rather than the "contain" phase of the outbreak, which causes the illness COVID-19.

There are now 93,090 confirmed cases of the virus – 80,422 of them in China – and almost 3,200 deaths.


  • UK Coronavirus response has moved from contain to delay, Chief Medical Officer says

  • Coronavirus can stay on handrails for up to 72 hours – but no need to avoid bus or train

There are around 90 cases in the UK and no deaths so far.

Prof Whitty also told MPs:

  • Older people or the already ill may soon be told to avoid crowded places to avoid infection
  • Up to 80% of Brits may get the virus, but probably fewer (he repeated)
  • 1% of those infected are expected to die, but that's an 'upper limit' (he repeated)
  • There will likely be a 'long period' between an epidemic being declared and its peak

  • 'A year would be lucky' to get a vaccine despite clinical trials in the coming months

  • Authorities WILL give regular updates on case locations after a row, but not 'street level' data

  • There is no need for the public to stockpile food, medicine or other supplies

  • The virus can stay on handrails on public transport for up to 72 hours

The Chief Medical Officer brought up smoking when asked about groups vulnerable to the illness, which kills about 1% of those it infects.

He said older people and those with underlying health problems were more at risk of dying, as they have weaker immune systems, while others – including pregnant women and children – were at no higher risk than fit and healthy adults.

Children with severe conditions like asthma could be at a higher risk, he said.

Asked if Coronavirus could still kill fit and healthy people the Chief Medical Officer said: "Yes. Fit and healthy people can die from virtually anything, but it is incredibly rare to happen.

"So, any of you and I could die from flu, but it is very, very unlikely to happen.

"I think that the mortality rate for this is higher than seasonal flu, so therefore the risk is a bit higher.

"But the data would suggest that fit and healthy younger people have a much lower risk of doing this."

"I might add one slight rider to that – which is for most respiratory infections you worry about people who smoke a bit more. They are more likely to get it and their immune system is less good. But the evidence on this is not there, but as a general point."

Prof Whitty said the authorities may, in the future, advise older people to avoid crowded places to reduce the risk of infection.

However, he said smokers should not isolate themselves from society – they should just give up instead.

Prof Whitty told MPs: "To be clear on smokers, my recommendation is that they stop smoking.

"If you are going to give up smoking, this is a very good moment to do it.

"But it is not that I'm saying they should self-isolate or behave in any other way differently.

"I'm just highlighting that as an additional vulnerability for people who are otherwise healthy."

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