The government is considering a policy of “cocooning” groups of people who are most vulnerable to coronavirus.
People in care homes and others who are less likely to survive the disease may be kept apart from the wider population until herd immunity has been established.
A government adviser said an army of volunteers could be recruited to support those in group isolation.
Dr David Halpern said they could take pressure off care home staff.
If the virus spreads as modelling suggests it will, government advisers believe some hard choices will need to be made about how to protect groups that are more vulnerable to the disease – particularly the 500,000 older people in care homes and those with respiratory conditions.
Dr Halpern is chief executive of the government-owned Behavioural Insights Team, known as the “nudge unit”, and a member of Whitehall’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
He said: “There’s going to be a point, assuming the epidemic flows and grows as it will do, where you want to cocoon, to protect those at-risk groups so they don’t catch the disease.
“By the time they come out of their cocooning, herd immunity has been achieved in the rest of the population.”
Dr Halpern suggested that volunteers might be enlisted to work in care homes.
“There’s a lot of active work going on at the moment about what is it the volunteers could do,” he added.
“There’s a lot of goodwill, let’s try and figure out what that will be and if they need training let’s get it in place before we hit the summer.”
He suggested students could be given intensive training over the Easter holidays.
Guidance may be issued encouraging friends and relatives not to visit people in care homes until the risk of contracting the disease is more manageable.
Other suggestions put forward by the Behavioural Insights Team include a change to the way schools are cleaned.
Dr Halpern said cleaners might be told to concentrate on surfaces such as handrails and light switches, where the virus can linger, rather than school floors.