The Government is launching a renewed public information campaign urging people to wash their hands to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Adverts will seek to drive home the message that regular hand-washing is the single most important action individuals can take in the fight against Covid-19.
It comes the day after the Government launched its “battle plan” to combat the outbreak with a warning that up to a fifth of the UK workforce could be off sick when the virus hits its peak.
Officials disclosed on Tuesday that the number of people in the UK diagnosed with Covid-19 had risen to 51, with 12 new cases – while a British woman staying in Tenerife has also tested positive for the virus.
Meanwhile, NHS England has ordered hospitals to review their intensive care bed numbers and how they could be increased to cope with a surge in cases.
In a letter to NHS bosses, strategic incident director Keith Willett said a level four incident – the highest category – had been declared
He raised the prospect that infected patients may soon start being treated on hospital wards as the numbers grow.
Hospitals have been told to draw up plans to segregate wards such as A&E departments in the event of a “significant escalation” in cases.
All adults and children in intensive care with any kind of respiratory infection must also now be tested for the virus.
Officials are still working to delay the peak of the virus until the warmer months when health services are less busy coping with seasonal flu.
The latest adverts – to be rolled out across print, radio, online and billboards – will reinforce the message that people should be washing their hands more often.
You can help stop the spread of germs like #coronavirus.
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) March 3, 2020
It includes when they come in from home or work, after they blow their nose, cough or sneeze, and before they eat or handle food.
The adverts say washing should be for 20 seconds, using soap and water or hand sanitiser.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We all have a role to play in stopping this disease and that’s what this expanded campaign is all about – making sure the public knows exactly what they should be doing to keep themselves and others safe.
“Washing hands regularly is the single most important thing that an individual can do.”
The 27-page Government “battle plan” sets out possible strategies for delaying the virus spread including school closures, “reducing the number of large-scale gatherings” and encouraging greater home working.
In a worst case scenario, it said up to 80% of the population could become infected, with people hospitalised with pneumonia and a relatively high death rate among the elderly and frail.
A sharp rise in the numbers could see non-urgent operations cancelled and recently retired NHS staff being called back to duty.
The document also raises the possibility that at the virus peak, police could switch to dealing with only serious crime and maintaining public order while the military could be drafted in to support the emergency services.
Launching the plan at a Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson said he had no doubt at all the country would get through coronavirus “in good shape”, saying most people affected would suffer only a mild illness.
Government scientific experts predict the UK would see a coronavirus peak two to three months after sustained person to person transmission becomes established across the country.
There will then be a further two to three months of decline, meaning an outbreak could last around four to six months.