Millions of people were today urged to keep their distance to stop an outbreak of coronavirus spreading in Britain.
The World Health Organisation called on countries around the globe to prepare for the arrival of Covid-19 as America warned that a pandemic was now likely.
Stockmarkets fell again today. More than £2.5 trillion has been wiped off the value of shares globally in the past four trading sessions as investors became spooked by the infection’s spread.
With more and more cases being confirmed in Asia, Europe and also the first diagnosis in South America, in Brazil, scientists were racing to learn more about the virus.
“The most important thing we are realising is it’s really infectious but it’s infectious if you are close up with people,” WHO coronavirus response envoy Dr David Nabarro told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“So social distancing, learning to actually not have to be very close with each other, is really important.”
London faces particular challenges given it is one of the most visited cities in the world, with hundreds of thousands of people packing into the Tube every day.
Public Health England medical director Yvonne Doyle told its board meeting this morning that 19,000 people had called its helpline last night.
She said: If the situation changed and we were trying to mitigate spread, we would look at school closures.
Ms Doyle added that two of the four Diamond Princess passengers had now tested negative for coronavirus. US oil giant Chevron yesterday sent home 300 workers from its Canary Wharf office after an employee, who had recently returned from a country hit by coronavirus, reported flu-like symptoms. Thirteen people have been treated in the UK for Covid-19 which is not believed to be transmitting between people here.
Checks of patients displaying possible symptoms at hospitals and GP practices are being stepped up to try to catch any outbreak early.
Dr Nabarro, who led UN campaigns against ebola and cholera, emphasised that countries needed to “react speedily” to Covid-19 outbreaks, such as quarantining communities, as is happening in northern Italy.