PM Boris Johnson warned the UK will not be able to contain the coronavirus outbreak today as he confirmed advice will be stepped up to delay the spread.
The PM teed up a toughening of the response as he gave a press conference in Downing Street after chairing a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee.
But he still stopped short of shifting the official strategy from the contain phase to focus on efforts to delay the spread.
We remain in the contain phase of the outbreak, but watching what is happening around the world our scientists believe that containment is unlikely to work on its own, he said.
There has been speculation that soon people will be advised to work from home where possible, and vulnerable people the elderly or those with long-term health problems – urged to stay at home to avoid becoming infected.
More dramatic options include pubs, church halls and schools being closed and football matches called off although ministers stress those moves are more likely later in the crisis.
However, former Tory Cabinet minister Rory Stewart said the example of China, and his experience in the Ebola outbreak in Africa last year, showed Mr Johnson could not afford to wait. ‘What you will find is that the government will eventually close schools,’ he told LBC radio. ‘We should be doing it tomorrow.’
Public Health England has announced the UK’s fourth death, and today it was confirmed 48 more patients, including five in Scotland and two in Wales, have been diagnosed with the life-threatening illness which has left millions living in fear.
The UK’s total infection toll now sits at 321, with the number having risen almost eight-fold in the space of a week. Outbreaks in Italy, France, Germany and Spain have also dramatically increased in size.
The economy is being battered by the consequences of the outbreak, with the UK’s FTSE 100 index suffering the worst drop since the 2008 financial crisis.
Mr Johnson told the Cobra meeting this morning that tackling the outbreak will require a national and international effort. He told meeting: ‘I am confident the British people are ready to play their part.
The Cobra committee was expected to decide whether the UK should officially move from the contain to the delay phase of the Government’s battle plan to deal with coronavirus.
Chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, were there.