A GROUP of academics has urged the government to implement social distancing by stopping people from moving around different regions of the UK amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Six health experts warned Britain is losing a "very small window of opportunity" to help prevent the spread of the disease and a "health system collapse".

The appeal to ministers was made in a letter signed by six professors, including Julian Peto, Nisreen Alwan, David McCoy, Helen Ward, Martin McKee and Elio Riboli.

The experts referred to London specifically when giving examples of areas where movement between and within should be restricted.

In a letter to The Times, the six academics wrote: "Sir, the UK is losing a very small window of opportunity to minimise the disease burden from Covid-19 and prevent a health system collapse."

They added: "We recognise the severe constraints on capacity for testing but, while that is being addressed, the government must implement social distancing, extensive case finding and contact tracing to reduce community spread to give time for the health system to prepare and cope.

"Hence we urge the government to enforce restrictions on movement between and within areas with high and low rates of infection, such as London, while ensuring that the most vulnerable in society are supported."

It comes as the UK coronavirus death toll surges by 56 in one day, bringing the total fatalities to 233.

A 41-year-old is thought to be the youngest victim in Britain since the outbreak began. The total number of confirmed cases in the UK has hit 5,018.

All new victims in England had underlying health conditions and the eldest was 94.

Wales's death toll has risen to five, Scotland's now stands at seven and Northern Ireland's remains at one.

The rise comes as the government today scolded "shameful" panic-buyers and pleaded with the frenzied shoppers to consider more vulnerable people before emptying the nation's supermarkets.

Environment Secretary George Eustice told people to "calm down" and claimed there is "more than enough food to go around".

But he said that many Britons, including frontline NHS staff, were being deprived because of a sharp upswing in stockpiling.