UK response to coronavirus outbreak set to enter new phase
Boris Johnson is expected to accept that the coronavirus outbreak can no longer be contained in the UK, signalling the start of the next phase in the battle against Covid-19.
The Prime Minister will chair a Cobra meeting at lunchtime on Thursday where ministers are expected to agree to move into the “delay” stage of the process.
Moving to delay would mean social distancing measures could be brought in, such as restricting public gatherings and issuing more widespread advice to stay at home.
The expected shift in UK policy came as Donald Trump dramatically escalated the US response to the coronavirus pandemic, slapping a travel ban on continental Europe.
The suspension of travel between the United States and Europe – excluding the UK and Ireland – will last for 30 days starting on Friday.
Mr Trump made the announcement in an Oval Office address to the nation, blaming the European Union for not acting quickly enough to address the outbreak of the virus and saying US clusters were “seeded” by European travellers.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak played down the prospect of the UK imposing similar travel restrictions, saying “the evidence here doesn’t support that”.
Thursday’s Cobra meeting comes after eight people with Covid-19 were confirmed to have died in the UK, while the total number of positive cases rose to 460.
A Cabinet minister, who has not been named, was self-isolating while awaiting a test result after coming into contact with health minister Nadine Dorries.
Ms Dorries is self-isolating at home after being diagnosed with the illness.
A source confirmed fellow health minister Edward Argar is also self-isolating at home “as a precaution” after having lunch with Ms Dorries on Thursday, the day she started to feel unwell.
Mr Sunak told the BBC: “This has obviously now impacted Parliament and government, and we are dealing with it, like all other businesses are going to have to start dealing with it.”
Public Health England was carrying out a “very thorough and rigorous process” to trace people who had been in close contact with Ms Dorries, he said.
In other developments:
– The annual St Patrick’s reception at the White House was cancelled, although Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was still expected to hold talks with Mr Trump
– The FTSE 100 index of leading London-listed companies fell more than 5% in early trading following the World Health Organisation’s declaration of a pandemic
– Hollywood star Tom Hanks announced he and wife Rita Wilson have been diagnosed with coronavirus
On Wednesday, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said the number of cases outside China has increased 13-fold in the past two weeks, and the number of affected countries has tripled.
He said there had been “alarming levels of inaction” in some parts of the world.
But Dr Tedros advised that despite the change in the language, WHO is still advising countries to remain in the containment phase.