Health

Coronavirus: UK to remain in ‘containment’ phase of response

Crowd at MurrayfieldImage copyright Reuters
Image caption There is no reason to cancel large events at the moment, ministers say

The UK will remain in the “containment” stage of its response to the coronavirus following an emergency Cobra meeting.

It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs a fourth person had died from the virus in the UK.

There were 319 confirmed cases in the UK as of 09:00 GMT on Monday, a rise of 46 since the same time on Sunday.

However, measures to delay the virus’ spread with “social distancing” will not be introduced yet, ministers said.

Number 10 said it accepted that the virus “is going to spread in a significant way”, however.

Downing Street said the prime minister “will be guided by the best scientific advice” but there was no need to cancel sporting events at this stage.

Ministers have also been meeting with sports bodies and UK supermarkets to discuss their response to the outbreak, which could include staging matches behind closed doors.

It comes as Ireland’s Six Nations rugby match in France on Saturday has been postponed, following an earlier decision to postpone England’s match in Italy. However, Wales’s game against Scotland in Cardiff is to go ahead as scheduled.

Another two cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus were confirmed in Wales and another five in Scotland on Monday.

The UK’s top share index, the FTSE 100, is facing its worst day since the financial crisis after it fell by more than 8%, wiping billions off the value of major firms.

The Bank of England has said it will take all necessary steps to protect financial and monetary stability, according to a spokesman for the prime minister.

The UK is currently in the first phase – “containment” – of the government’s four-part plan to tackle the spread of coronavirus.

The government has previously said “social distancing” measures to slow the spread of the virus could include a ban on sporting events and other large gatherings, and encouraging people to work from home rather than use crowded trains and buses.

Such a step would require agreement from chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

A European Union expert said the UK had only a “few days” to implement measures to prevent an outbreak like Italy’s, which is the worst outside China with 7,375 confirmed cases and 366 deaths.

Sergio Brusin from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme: “The UK is in the same situation Italy was two weeks ago.”

Environment Secretary George Eustice will also discuss contingency plans with supermarket chief executives, including proposals on how to support vulnerable groups who may have to self-isolate.

As supermarkets restrict sales of some products to halt panic-buying, a survey suggested one in 10 shoppers are stockpiling. Both the government and retailers say stockpiling is unnecessary.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell accused the government of offering only “vague statements” in response to the outbreak, saying it needed to guarantee sick pay for all workers and address issues such as a shortage of 100,000 NHS staff.

Flights cancelled

The latest person to die – a man in his 60s with significant underlying health problems – had recently returned from Italy, Public Health England said on Sunday.

The man was being treated at the specialist infectious diseases unit in North Manchester General Hospital after testing positive for coronavirus.

Prof Whitty said health officials were tracing people who may have been in contact with the man while he was carrying the virus.

The Foreign Office has warned Britons to avoid large parts of northern Italy under a coronavirus quarantine, unless their journey is essential.

Image copyright Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust
Image caption The third coronavirus patient to die in the UK was a man in his 60s

Those travelling from locked-down areas have also been advised to self-isolate if they returned to the UK in the last 14 days – even if they have shown no symptoms.

Travellers from the rest of Italy are only told to self-isolate and call 111 if they have a cough, fever or shortness of breath.

British nationals are still able to depart Italy without restriction, but some airlines – including EasyJet and British Airways – have cancelled several flights to and from affected areas.

Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, told BBC Radio 5 Live “enhanced measures” were in place to screen passengers from Italy – but the only one he identified was training airline staff to spot the symptoms of Covid-19.

Public Health England said passengers on flights from northern Italy are also issued with information about symptoms and necessary actions to take, which will be extended to all flights from Italy by Wednesday.

However, the Unite union, which represents many cabin crew, said “there has been no training” for its members working on flights from northern Italy.

Neil Hanlon, from Bridgwater in Somerset, told BBC Breakfast that food on board has become “very limited” and he was “gutted” that it may take until later in the week until he and his wife Victoria can fly home.

Teams from across Whitehall have been brought together to identify and respond to disinformation in a bid to limit its spread.

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