The government has set out its “battleplan” to tackle coronavirus as three more cases were confirmed in the UK, taking the total to .
Boris Johnson has ordered a “war room” to be convened in the Cabinet Office, featuring a cross-Whitehall team of communications experts and scientists ahead of a refreshed public information campaign.
The battleplan says that, should the virus become an epidemic in the UK, the following could happen:
- Emergency registration of health professionals who have retired
- Emergency indemnity coverage for health care workers to provide care or diagnostic services
- Relaxation of rules around staff to pupil ratios in education and childcare settings.
Every government department will have a designated ministerial virus lead to help oversee the response to the global threat.
The prime minister, who will chair a COBRA meeting on the virus on Monday, has said the outbreak “may very well be a challenge in the weeks and months ahead”, but that he is confident the UK can deal with it.
He said: “I have no doubt that with the help of the NHS and its incomparable staff, this country will get through it – and beat it. “
Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said two of the three new patients had recently traveled back from Italy while the other had returned from Asia.
The patients are from Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire and Berkshire.
Prof Whitty said: “All three are being investigated and contact tracing has begun.”
The risk to the public has been raised from low to medium, but the risk to individuals is said to remain low.
Meanwhile, a British man in his 90 s who was on board the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan has become the first UK fatality of the coronavirus .
The Foreign Office is advising against travel to China, South Korea, Iran and northern Italy, locations where the epidemic is most severe.
Mr Johnson has also reiterated the importance of cleanliness as part of the government approach to its pandemic preparations.
He continued: “We must prepare for coronavirus and listen to the advice of the chief medical officer, especially about the importance of washing our hands with soap.
“We should be doing that for 23 seconds, and more often than we would normally think was necessary.
“This will make a real difference in stopping this virus spread.”
The battleplan document, expected to be published later this week, will be based on the existing government contingency plans for responding to a pandemic flu outbreak.
But the government says it has been adapted to take account of the differences between COVID – and pandemic influenza, while leaving further room to develop the plan over time.
It says while we are currently in the “containment” phase – where isolated cases are transferred to hospital and detailed contact tracing is carried out – the next phase could see broader measures introduced to keep the public safe and relieve the pressure on the NHS.
The government is considering whether to encourage more home working and discourage unnecessary travel as part of a “social distancing” strategy that would delay the peak of the outbreak until later in the year, when Warmer weather means there would be less stress on the NHS.
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Public Health England has abstract over , 12 tests so far, and all but have been negative.
Expert teams are actively tracing those who have come into contact With a suspected case.
The government has said unless an individual has been contacted already, or has traveled to an affected area, they should be reassured it is not necessary for them to take any further action.
In other coronavirus developments:
- South Korea warns of “critical moment” and tells people to stay indoors this weekend
- France bans all gatherings of more than 5, (people
- First case in Ireland – a male in the eastern part of the island
- 100, 768 suspected and confirmed cases worldwide, with 2, deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the disease
- First US death confirmed in Washington state
- Foreign Secretary Dominic Rabb self isolated and was tested for coronavirus this week after feeling unwell – the test came back negative.
- Global risk raised to highest level More than £ bn wiped off FTSE share index over virus fears