Boris Johnson chairs Cobra as Coronavirus crisis steps up

Government could order mass closures of PUBS, football matches and church halls amid warnings coronavirus ‘is going to spread across UK in a significant way’ as Boris Johnson chairs emergency Cobra meeting

  • Boris Johnson chairing meeting of Cobra emergency committee on coronavirus
  • Ministers are preparing frantic bid to slow down the spread of the killer disease 
  • Third UK death was confirmed last night as infections take hold around world  

Pubs, church halls and schools could be closed and football matches called off as the UK Government prepares to ramp up efforts to stop the coronavirus spreading.

An outbreak started on British soil last week and a third person died on Sunday – more than 270 people have already been infected and there are no signs officials will be able to contain the virus from spreading more in the coming days.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is today hosting a Cobra meeting of senior Government ministers to discuss how best to tackle the deadly outbreak.

It comes after sources inside Number 10 last week said officials believe the virus ‘is highly likely that it is going to spread in a significant way’.  

Speculation is mounting that the government is about to move to the ‘delay’ phase of its response, admitting that its efforts in the ‘contain’ phase have failed.

More dramatic moves could see people being 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. 

However, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said talk of axing sporting events and shutting museums and galleries – which has happened in Italy, where a much larger outbreak is raging – was ‘premature’. 

Public Health England announced the UK’s third death last night, with a man in his 60s dying at North Manchester General Hospital after testing positive.

Confirmed cases of the virus in the UK have now hit 278, with more than 23,500 people tested.

Mr Johnson will tell the Cobra meeting this morning that tackling the outbreak will require a ‘national and international effort’.

Boris Johnson (pictured on a visit to Worcestershire yesterday) is chairing the Cobra committee amid signs coronavirus is starting to take hold in the UK

Almost 300 people in the UK have now been diagnosed with the coronavirus five weeks after the first two patients – a mother and son in York – were confirmed on January 31

Mr Johnson is expected to tell the meeting: ‘I am confident the British people are ready to play their part.’

The Cobra committee will decide whether the UK should officially move from the ‘contain’ to the ‘delay’ phase of the Government’s battle plan to deal with coronavirus.  

Such a step would require agreement from chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, who will be there.

The Government will today consider upgrading its efforts to stop the coronavirus.

It is using a four-point scale taken from an official ‘coronavirus action plan’ which was launched by Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street last week. 

Efforts are currently in the first phase, named ‘contain’, but could escalate to ‘delay’.

Future efforts in the Delay phase could include school closures, encouraging people to work from home and cancelling large public gatherings such as the London Marathon.

The efforts would be added on to a public information campaign which launched last week and is urging people to wash their hands more often – increasing engagement with the public is an element of the Delay phase which was started early.

And efforts from the Contain phase, such as isolating people confirmed to have the virus and updating travel and health advice, will be continued. 

The Government’s battle plan has four phases – the latter two are called ‘research’ and ‘mitigate’.

Last week, Professory Whitty said UK efforts are already partly in the ‘delay’ phase – which includes public health campaigns to warn people about the virus – but it has not been officially declared.

The confirmation raises the prospect of children being allowed to stay off school, large events like London Marathon being cancelled and relaxed sick pay rules so that people can receive statutory pay from their first day of illness.

Writing in The Sun today, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries said: ‘It is now likely the virus is going to spread so we are stepping up planning to delay the peak of the outbreak to reduce the number of patients coming into the NHS during our busy winter period.

‘We may in the future recommend certain measures, such as working from home or asking more vulnerable people to stay at home.’

The high level discussions come as:

  • Supermarkets placed restrictions on items including pasta, anti-bacterial wipes and hand soap in a bid to prevent shoppers from stockpiling, amid reports of people panic-buying in shops;
  • The Foreign Office and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said it was ‘working intensively’ with US authorities on arranging a flight for British nationals on the coronavirus-hit Grand Princess cruise ship due to arrive in Oakland, California, on Monday;
  • British tourists were warned to avoid all but essential travel to a swathe of northern Italy under a coronavirus quarantine, including the popular destinations of Milan and Venice;
  • Travellers returning from the lockdown areas in northern Italy were advised to self-isolate if they have returned to the UK in the last 14 days, even if have they have no coronavirus symptoms;
  • The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport prepared to host a meeting with governing bodies and broadcasters on Monday to discuss how to handle the Covid-19 outbreak’s potential impact on the sporting calendar;
  • Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said expert teams had been brought together to tackle the potential spread of ‘misinformation and digital interference’ around coronavirus.

The coronavirus has now infected more than 110,000 people around the world and killed at least 3,825 – it has reached most corners of the globe except for East Africa

The UK has confirmed 69 new coronavirus cases bringing its total count to 278. Pictured above is a woman wearing a face mask walking past an empty aisle in a London Asda store

Environment Secretary George Eustice will hold further talks with retailers today on how to support vulnerable groups who may have to self-isolate.

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle will also chair a joint meeting of the House of Commons and House of Lords commissions to discuss Parliament’s response .

Over the weekend, medical experts warned of the pressure being placed on the NHS due to the outbreak.

GP surgeries in Wales are expected to receive packs of protective face masks, gloves and aprons this week to support their treatment of people with suspected coronavirus.

Meanwhile in Italy, around 16 million people have been placed under lockdown as its Covid-19 linked death toll rose to 366.

Extraordinary measures passed by the government have placed restrictions on museums, cinemas, shopping centres and restaurants until the start of April.

The FCO said British nationals are still able to leave Italy without restriction.

Budget airline easyJet said it was cancelling some flights to Milan Malpensa, Milan Linate, Venice and Verona airports, with further flight reductions expected to come.

GOVERNMENT ADVISES AGAINST ‘ALL BUT ESSENTIAL TRAVEL’ TO NORTHERN ITALY 

The British Foreign Office has advised against ‘all but essential travel’ to a number of areas in northern Italy as total cases reach more than 7,000. 

It warned citizens to avoid traditional tourist hotspots such as Venice and Milan due to control and isolation measures imposed by Italian authorities and cases of coronavirus reported.

Rome has already placed the Lombardy region, with a population of 16million, on lock-down.

It comes as UK employers are also reported to be sending employees that have recently travelled to Italy home for a two-week isolation period.

The Foreign Office warned against all travel to the Lombardy region alongside the provinces of Emilia Romagna and Piemonte.

It also warned against visiting Pesaro e Urbino in Marche and Treviso and Venice in the Veneto region. 

It first warned against travel to eleven towns in northern Italy on February 25 after 322 coronavirus cases were reported.

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