The UK Government is failing to deal with the coronavirus outbreak quickly enough, according to hundreds of the country’s leading scientists.

A group of 245 experts from UK universities, including those from St Andrews, Edinburgh and Strathclyde, have urged the Government to do more to stop the spread of Covid-19.

The call comes as the UK’s approach was also called into question by the World Health Organisation (WHO) while Donald Trump added the UK to his travel ban list.

The criticism comes as news broke last night that Britain’s over-70s will soon be told by the government to self-isolate for four months to stop the spread of coronavirus.

A senior source told ITN journalist Robert Peston that blanket quarantining of the elderly is expected to be enforced in the next 20 days as Boris Johnson attempts to tackle the UK’s outbreak.

Yesterday, the death toll in the UK rose to 21 with 1,140 people – 121 of them in Scotland – now confirmed as having the virus.

Ten more patients, all aged over 60 and many of whom had underlying health conditions, have died in England after testing positive for Covid-19. The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Scotland has risen to 121 – from 85 reported on Friday – representing the single-largest increase since the outbreak of Covid-19. So far 3,715 tests have been carried out in Scotland.

READ MORE: World without a plan: how countries are hindering fight against coronavirus 

The university experts warn that the Government’s current approach will put the NHS under additional stress and “risk many more lives than necessary”.

They also slated comments made by Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, about managing the spread of the infection to make the population immune.

In the open letter, the group said: “Under unconstrained growth, this outbreak will affect millions of people in the next few weeks.

“This will most probably put the NHS at serious risk of not being able to cope with the flow of patients needing intensive care., as the number of ICU beds in the UK is not larger than that available in other neighbouring countries with a similar population. Going for ‘herd immunity’ at this point does not seem a viable option, as this will put the NHS at an even stronger level of stress, risking many more lives than necessary.

“By putting in place social distancing measures now, the growth can be slowed down dramatically, and thousands of lives can be spared.

“We consider the social distancing measures taken as of today as insufficient, and we believe that additional and more restrictive measures should be taken immediately, as it is already happening in other countries across the world.”

But Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, said that while there was a lack of exact data, he hoped the virus could be contained. He said: “I’m keeping my fingers crossed that all the things we have been doing up until now will mean we’re not going to move towards an Italian situation.”

However, the UK’s approach to developing “herd immunity” against coronavirus was also questioned by the WHO.

Spokeswoman Dr Margaret Harris said not enough is known about the science of the coronavirus, and that while “theories” can be talked about, the current situation requires “action”. Her comments came as plans get under way to ban mass gatherings from next week as the Government finally looks to implement more extreme measures in the fight against Covid-19.

Boris Johnson has come under fire for not taking such actions, despite similar steps being taken by other European countries as the pandemic worsens.

Emergency legislation bringing in beefed-up powers will be published next week and there could also be a move towards more people working from home, a Whitehall source said. Harris added: “We don’t know enough about the science of this virus, it hasn’t been in our population for long enough for us to know what it does in immunological terms. Every virus functions differently in your body and stimulates a different immunological profile. We can talk theories, but at the moment we are really facing a situation where we have got to look at action.”

On Friday, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said it is hoped the Government’s approach to tackling coronavirus will create a “herd immunity” to the disease. Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, yesterday said: “The public should know every measure we are taking is seeking to save lives and protect the most vulnerable.”

READ MORE: Iain Macwhirter: Herd immunity does not mean the Government is trying to kill old people 

The 10 patients were being cared for in Buckinghamshire, Sandwell & West Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Leicester, Barts, London, north Middlesex, and Chester. Meanwhile, a newborn baby in England who has tested positive for coronavirus is likely to be one of the world’s youngest patients with the disease.

The infant and its mother both tested positive at a north London hospital and staff who had contact with the pair have been advised to self-isolate.

The mother was rushed to hospital days earlier with suspected pneumonia and she and her child are being treated at separate hospitals.

North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust said: “Two patients at North Middlesex University Hospital have tested positive for coronavirus.

“One has been transferred to a specialist centre and one is being treated in an isolation room.”

 This week’s Scottish Life magazine contains a feature on the Aye Write! festival. We regret to say this event has now been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak