UK’s battle plan to fight coronavirus to be revealed
The UK’s battle plan to tackle coronavirus is due to be revealed as the country prepares for the illness to spread more widely in the days and weeks ahead.
The number of people in the UK who have tested positive for the virus stands at 39.
Boris Johnson is due to set out the Government’s plan, vowing that officials are “ready to take necessary steps” to contain coronavirus and protect the vulnerable.
The plan, to be launched at Downing Street on Tuesday, is expected to include a “war room” to bring together communications experts and scientists from across Government and the NHS to roll out a public information campaign.
Other measures could see people discouraged from unnecessary travel, workers urged to stay at home, and retired doctors and nurses asked to return to work to help deal with patients.
The Prime Minister said: “We have agreed a plan, which I will set out in detail, so if the virus should spread, we are ready to take necessary steps to contain it and protect the most vulnerable.”
Legislation allowing the Government to use extra powers to help control Covid-19 is expected to go through Parliament by the end of the month.
Following an emergency Cobra meeting on Monday, at which ministers discussed the “battle plan”, Mr Johnson said coronavirus is “highly likely” to spread more widely.
While he has insisted the NHS is well prepared to deal with any outbreak, a doctors’ group warned there are concerns an already-stretched health service will not cope in the event of a huge increase in cases.
The Doctors’ Association UK said just eight of 1,618 medics surveyed felt the NHS was ready for coronavirus.
Health officials have been saying for weeks that the public can play their part by washing their hands regularly, and Mr Johnson on Monday advised people should do so for the length of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.
But despite the public health campaign a YouGov poll suggested 54% of people have not been taking any extra steps to protect themselves.
Health leaders have announced an extra £1.7 million investment in the NHS non-emergency helpline to offer more clinical advice about coronavirus, and NHS England has put a new NHS 111 online service in place after a surge in inquiries.
With global markets hit by the spread of Covid-19, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to use his budget next week to outline measures to support the economy, having ordered officials to work up plans to bolster the public health response, businesses and the economy.
All the new UK cases announced on Monday were people who had recently travelled to Italy, which is experiencing the biggest outbreak in Europe.
Government sources told the PA news agency it could be “months rather than weeks” before the outbreak peaks in the UK.
In a suggestion that extra emergency powers would not be required immediately, the source said: “We don’t want to have to take decisions before we have to. As much as possible we want people to carry on with their daily lives.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that while the UK is focused on containment of the disease for now, the next phase – if the global spread continues – will be attempting to slow the spread and push the virus peak further towards the warmer summer weather.
The European Commission on Monday raised the coronavirus risk level from moderate to high for those in the European Union and the UK.
The UK cases include a worker at the North East London NHS Foundation Trust offices at Vinters Business Park near Maidstone in Kent, a pupil from a secondary school in Torbay, a patient at Davenport House GP surgery in Harpenden and the parent of a pupil at school in Stevenage.
Three of the new cases in England were linked to a man from Surrey, who was infected within the UK.
As the outbreak continues to dominate global headlines, parents have reported that children in playgrounds are playing a “coronavirus game”, with one mother describing it as a cross between tag and stuck in the mud.
British Airways said it had cancelled hundreds of upcoming flights in March, including from Heathrow, Gatwick and London City airports
Ryanair has also reduced flights on some routes, in particular to and from Italy, by up to 25% due to a drop in demand.
Globally more than 88,000 cases of the disease have been confirmed, with more than 3,000 deaths.