Setting out a ‘battle plan’ for tackling a potential epidemic, he warned the nation of the scale of the challenge posed by an illness that may afflict millions.
The sobering strategy said Britons could be asked to suspend their social lives – ‘avoiding contact outside work and school’ – if the virus took hold.
Sources said dramatically cutting back on activities such as eating out, going to the pub, shopping and shows could significantly slow the spread of the contagion.
Other contingency measures were set out to allow key public services, such as the NHS and the police, to continue functioning.
The plan said officers could be told to suspend investigations and focus on serious crime, the Army could be put on standby and foreign visitors showing symptoms could be required to have a coronavirus test before being allowed into the country.
A woman wearing a protective face mask is seen on London Bridge amid growing concern over the British coronavirus outbreak
A member of staff at accountancy firm Deloitte (London office picture) tested positive for the virus after returning from Asia, MailOnline can reveal
The prep school, St Edmund’s in Hindhead, Surrey, (pictured) confirmed that the parents of one of their pupils had the virus
Boris Johnson at a Downing Street press conference yesterday, where he warned the nation of the scale of the challenge posed by an illness that may afflict millions
A stone’s throw from Number 10, two people wear protective face masks in London’s Parliament Square amid concerns of a British outbreak
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty (left, alongside the PM and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance) yesterday said he expected the spread to be ‘probably a lot lower’ than the worst-case scenario in which eight in ten could get it
Hospitals to shift ‘bed blockers’
Hospitals will be cleared of so-called ‘bed blockers’ if the coronavirus spreads seriously, health bosses indicated yesterday.
Those who no longer need intensive medical treatment will be shifted from hospital wards to make room for patients with the virus under the Government’s ‘action plan’ to deal with the outbreak.
Mostly elderly and frail, those who need help with everyday living rather than treatment will be moved back to their homes and given care there, it said.
However, this will increase pressure on the social care system, which is expected to come under strain if coronavirus begins to affect large numbers of people.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the threat of illness among those running care homes and providing care at home was ‘a potentially big challenge’.
He said there would be a call for volunteers and a programme to bring back qualified social care staff who have left the industry, in the same way that retired doctors will be recalled to the NHS.
The plan said a fifth of the workforce – more than six million staff – could be off sick at the peak of the outbreak, which ministers hope to delay until late in the spring.
It emerged last night that the NHS had declared a ‘Level Four’ incident, the highest level of alert, as officials brace for a surge in coronavirus cases in the coming weeks.
Hospitals have been advised to postpone treatment where possible and treat patients at home, or in the community to ease pressure on beds.
At a press conference in No 10 yesterday, the Prime Minister said ‘all reasonable and necessary steps’ were being taken. He stressed that for the overwhelming majority the virus would produce only a mild disease.
But there are fears for the over-80s, who are thought to be especially susceptible. In a worst-case scenario, official projections point to as many as half a million deaths, although experts insisted early evidence from China suggested the final figure would be only a fraction of this.
Meanwhile a member of staff at accountancy firm Deloitte tested positive for the virus after returning from Asia.
The Big Four company’s London office on New Street Square, Holborn, is undergoing deep cleaning for fear of contamination and the patient is now in hospital.
MailOnline understands that while part of the office space is temporarily closed, staff will be allowed to work from home if they wish.
A Deloitte spokesperson said: ‘One of the floors in our offices has recently been impacted, with a member of staff being confirmed with Covid-19 after returning from a personal trip to Asia. The member of staff is now in hospital and receiving good care.’
As the number of UK victims rose from 39 to 51:
- The new cases included two in Bury and another in Bolton, as well as others in London and Hampshire;
- A major advertising campaign will urge Britons to wash their hands for 20 seconds throughout the day;
- The Queen wore long gloves at an investiture for what was believed to be the first time in decades;
- The death rate rose to 3.4 per cent from 2 per cent – possibly because the number of mild cases is being under-reported;
- Sick pay and benefit rules could be overhauled;
- A Wirral secondary school closed for a deep clean after a parent became infected;
- The US Federal Reserve announced a surprise cut in interest rates, with the Bank of England expected to follow;
- Shoppers ignored ‘Don’t panic’ warnings and cleared shelves of essentials;
- In Italy, the death toll soared to 79 and Iran temporarily freed 54,000 inmates to combat the spread of the virus.
The 12-week plan will come into force should the virus defeat efforts to contain it.
Officials believe that cutting social activities by up to three quarters could hugely restrict its spread. Mass events, such as concerts, sports matches or even the May local elections or VE Day commemorations, could be cancelled.
Mark Bellamy (left), headteacher at Hilbre High on the Wirral, Merseyside, (right) ignored Government advice and closed its doors for a deep clean after a parent was revealed to be among the 12 new coronavirus cases confirmed in Britain
Check that spots illness instantly
A Breath test that instantly spots patients with coronavirus has been developed by British scientists.
They say it could be used to screen people in airports, GP surgeries, pharmacies or ambulances to give instant results.
The technology, developed at Northumbria University in Newcastle, needs further testing but experts say it could change the ways the virus is spotted.
Currently coronavirus is tested using a cheek swab which is sent off for analysis at a Public Health England lab, which takes between 24 and 48 hours.
The new test spots biological information in breath which can identify diseases. People simply breath into a device similar to a breathalyser used by the police.
Although diagnosis from breath sampling has been used before, previous methods have not been reliable enough due to contamination, loss of the sample and issues of variability in breath analysis.
But the device developed in Newcastle has solved these problems so data collected closely matches results from lung samples taken surgically.
Researchers hope the technology could eventually be used to diagnose lung diseases, diabetes, cancers and liver and brain problems.
Families were also warned that they may be asked to go into quarantine at home if one or more of them contracts the virus.
Routine operations could be cancelled to ease the strain on the NHS, and patients could be discharged early to free up beds.
Last night it was claimed that non time-critical homicide investigations could be postponed as long as there was no increase in threat.
Forces could also increase response times to crimes such as burglaries and postpone some operations, such as action against gangs or serious crime rings.
Emergency laws will be rushed forward to allow greater ‘flexibility’ for public services.
Measures include allowing retired healthcare staff to come back to work; suspending rules on class sizes; allowing children to be taught at different schools if theirs is closed; and allowing suspects held on remand to appear in court by video link.
Closing down entire cities – as happened in China – has been all but ruled out, with the benefit seen as ‘virtually zero’.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty yesterday said he expected the spread to be ‘probably a lot lower’ than the worst-case scenario in which eight in ten could get it.
But he said the NHS had to plan for the worst, which could involve two million being hospitalised.
Officials said the trigger for moving from the ‘contain’ phase to the ‘delay’ phase would come when there was no realistic possibility of preventing a global pandemic.
‘Wash your hands more often for 20 seconds’: NHS to hammer home hygiene message in bid to cut coronavirus infections – with even the Queen wearing gloves
Sophie Borland and John Stevens for the Daily Mail
Britons are being urged to wash their hands throughout the day for 20 seconds at a time as part of a major coronavirus awareness campaign.
Adverts are going up at bus stops and on billboards and social media sites stressing the importance of frequent handwashing.
They will also appear in newspapers and on radio stations.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said simply washing your hands with soap and water was the ‘single most important thing’ Britons could do to protect themselves.
But the expanded advertising campaign is being launched amid widespread confusion over whether the public should abandon shaking hands for fear of spreading germs. The official advice on handshaking is far less clear.
Boris Johnson said yesterday that he was still shaking hands with ‘everybody’ – including with staff in hospitals where patients were being treated for coronavirus – despite politicians around the world ceasing the practice.
The Prime Minister shared a picture of himself washing his hands to his Instagram account, after telling Britons to rinse with hot water and soap at the press conference
Adverts are going up at bus stops and on billboards and social media sites stressing the importance of frequent handwashing
The Queen appeared to be taking precautions against coronavirus yesterday when she wore gloves during an investiture ceremony in the ballroom at Buckingham Palace
Mr Hancock, meanwhile, stressed that the risks of handshaking were ‘negligible’, especially if everyone washed their hands more often.
However, the Queen appeared to be taking precautions against coronavirus yesterday when she wore gloves during an investiture ceremony in the ballroom at Buckingham Palace.
Observers suggested the elegant white pair she chose to present awards appeared much longer than those she routinely wears when meeting the public on official engagements.
It is the first time the Queen has been pictured wearing gloves at such a ceremony in the past decade.
Traditionally she hands out honours without gloves, which could hinder the fiddly task of fastening medals to a recipient’s lapel.
At 93, she is in one of the groups most at risk if they contract the disease. Each investiture ceremony sees at least 60 people presented with awards.
Traditionally the monarch hands out honours without gloves (left, knighting Sir Archibald Tunnock in November) , which could hinder the fiddly task of fastening medals to a recipient’s lapel (right, with Harry Billinge MBE today)
Buckingham Palace yesterday refused to be drawn on whether the Queen’s move was designed to protect her health. A spokesman said only: ‘It is not unusual for the Queen to wear gloves on a public engagement.’
The handwashing adverts begin with the stark message: ‘Coronavirus, protect yourselves and others.’
They feature an image of germ-ridden door handle with the warning: ‘Viruses can live on some surfaces for hours. Wash your hands more often.’ The adverts tell patients: ‘Use soap and water for 20 seconds or hand sanitiser.’
The adverts also urge the public to wash their hands when they arrive at work or at home in the evening. They must do the same before preparing or eating food, including snacks.
Mr Hancock said: ‘We all have a role to play in stopping this disease. Washing hands regularly is the single most important thing that an individual can do. Public safety remains our top priority.’
Coronavirus ‘battle plan’: Murder inquiries suspended, troops on the streets, patients turfed out of hospitals and one in FIVE workers off sick as town halls are put on ‘death watch’
By Jason Groves, political editor for the Daily Mail
As Britain’s coronavirus case tally continues to climb and the likelihood of a nationwide epidemic grows, the government has drawn up a blueprint to tackle an outbreak on UK soil.
Boris Johnson’s yesterday revealed a four-pronged approach to deal with the crisis – contain, delay, research, mitigate.
From these four pillars follows a Downing Street ‘battle plan’, which includes drastic measures such as clamping down on mass gatherings, putting the Army on standby and halting police paperwork.
Here the Mail breaks down the core components of the plan and how it will affect Britons.
Six million may miss work
Employers encouraged to allow staff to work from home where possible. The battle plan warns that staff sickness will have a major impact on business and public services.
At the peak of an epidemic as many as one in five could be off sick at any one time – equal to more than six million people.
The plan warns: ‘Everyone will face increased pressures at work, as well as their own personal illness or caring responsibilities.’
Clampdown on mass gatherings
If the virus takes off then some mass gatherings could be called off to slow the spread.
But officials pointed out yesterday that the spread of the virus could be greater if fans banned from a football match choose to watch it in the pub.
But older people could be advised to stay away, potentially putting events like the VE Day commemorations in jeopardy from May 8-10.
A family were been evacuated from a home in Hull by medics wearing hazmat suits, in the latest coronavirus scare
A security guard with a mask on checks a driver at a coronavirus drive-thru testing centre at Parsons Green Health Centre in Fulham
A coronavirus pod at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, as local hospitals ramp up preparations to deal with cases
Coronavirus fears have gripped Britain, as a pedestrian is pictured wearing a protective facemask while taking a bus in Westminster, London
Older people could be advised to stay away from mass gatherings, potentially putting events like the VE Day commemorations in jeopardy from May 8-10. Pictured: Chelsea pensioners at the Remembrance Sunday parade last year
Social contact cut to slow spread
Strategies to slow the spread of the virus include so-called ‘population distancing’.
Officials yesterday said this could include asking people to ‘avoid contact outside work and school’.
Sources acknowledge there is little they can do to prevent people meeting friends and visiting pubs, restaurants and cinemas, but say that cutting social contact by 75 per cent could have a major impact on the spread of the disease.
Vetting for care home visitors
A dedicated plan for care homes will be published later this month. But, with elderly people significantly more vulnerable to the virus, sources said efforts would be made to limit contact with potential carriers.
Visits could be limited and family members could be asked to show they are virus-free before visiting.
At the height of the epidemic care homes could be temporarily closed to visitors, although ministers are anxious that residents do not feel cut off from their loved ones.
Police to halt paperwork
The report suggests that police could be told to shelve all but the most serious casework in order to focus on ‘critical functions’.
The document states that if the police suffer a ‘significant loss of officers’ to sickness they would be expected to ‘concentrate on responding to serious crimes and maintaining public order.’
Army guards at high-risk sites
The Army could be put on standby to substitute for the police on guarding duties at high-profile sites, such as nuclear power stations and Parliament.
This would free up police officers for frontline roles.
The Prime Minister said there were ‘long-established plans’ for the Army to ‘backfill’ in emergencies.
But Government sources played down suggestions that the military would play a wider role.
There are no plans to close ports and airports. But the Government will change the law to give border staff the power to require people arriving in the UK showing symptoms of the coronavirus to take a test. Pictured: A woman wearing a face mask packs her suitcase in the departures area of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport
Courts deploy video-links
Ministers are looking at changing the law to allow suspects being held on remand to give evidence via video link from their prison.
The system is already used for some serious terrorist offences and could be extended to other cases to reduce the need to transfer people to and from court every day.
Schools expected to stay open
The battle plan leaves open the possibility of ordering school closures for up to three months in order to slow the spread of the virus.
But ministers are acutely aware of the potential impact on children’s education, the exam season and parents’ ability to work if schools are shut so it will only happen as a last resort.
Instead, ministers will change the law to permit larger class sizes and to allow children to temporarily attend a different school if theirs is closed.
Healthy teachers could also be redeployed to other schools that are suffering shortages.
Hospital ops to be delayed
The NHS is likely to face massive strain if the virus takes off. The battle plan says that routine services, including elective operations such as hip and knee operations, could be ‘reduced temporarily’ to ease the burden.
Doctors will liaise with council social services teams to enable ‘early’ discharge from hospital to free up beds.
Boris Johnson yesterday urged people to be ‘self-restraining where possible’ when considering accessing NHS services.
Former medics called up
Ministers will change the law this month to allow doctors and nurses who have left the NHS or retired to return temporarily to plug gaps left by sickness among healthcare workers.
The NHS is also looking to fast-track recruitment of an army of volunteers to help maintain services such as feeding patients and delivering medicines.
A woman wears a protective face mask while sitting on a London Underground train today
Border staff on watch for virus
There are no plans to close ports and airports. But the Government will change the law to give border staff the power to require people arriving in the UK showing symptoms of the coronavirus to take a test.
Powers have already been taken to require people deemed at risk of the virus to be isolated from the rest of the community.
Support for firms and sick workers
The battle plan says the Government is looking at financial support for businesses facing ‘short-term cash flow problems’.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to unveil detailed measures in next week’s budget.
Ministers are also looking at the possibility of providing support to those workers who do not qualify for sick pay to ensure they take time off work if they catch the virus.
Town halls put on death watch
The report states that there ‘could well be an increase in deaths’ and says talks with councils are underway to ensure that funeral services are not overwhelmed.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said scientists were ‘reasonably confident’ that only one in a hundred people who contract the virus will die.
In a worst case scenario this could translate into about 500,000 extra deaths over a period of months, although officials are hopeful the final number will be ‘much lower’.
The elderly are more susceptible, with those aged over 80 thought to be particularly at risk.
Family at the heart of Surrey coronavirus outbreak are husband and wife whose son attends £5,000-a-term prep school – as officials STILL hunt for super-spreader who infected them
By Nick Fagge for MailOnline
The family at the heart of the epicentre of the Coronavirus in the UK are a husband and wife whose son attends a £5,000 a term prep school in Surrey, Mail Online can reveal.
The couple have been confirmed as having the Covid-19 infection and have led to other parents being placed in self isolation after they came into contact with them.
Their son has also been placed in self isolation – but has not yet tested positive for the fast spreading virus.
It is not known how the husband and wife contracted the virus and health officials in the Surrey area have been tracing anyone they came into contact with.
Their son’s prep school, St Edmund’s in Hindhead, Surrey, confirmed that the parents of one of their pupils had the virus.
Headmaster Adam Walker said in a statement that other parents who had come into contact with the pair were now self isolating and waiting to see if they test positive.
He said the couple’s son is ‘well and self isolating’ as a precautionary measure and no other pupil or teacher had the virus.
The school remains open on the advice of Public Health England, but was undergoing deep cleaning.
Other parents at the unnamed infected couple’s son’s prep school, St Edmund’s in Hindhead, Surrey, have gone into self isolation after having contact with the pair
Mr Walker said: ‘Whilst there is uncertainty about the Coronavirus, the evidence is that it appears to pose a very low risk to children. We have a super team in our School Surgery and our excellent teaching and pastoral staff have been working hard to ensure that it is business as usual at school for the children.’
The couple, who have not been named, were at the epicentre of the first outbreak of the virus in the affluent market town of Haslemere over the weekend.
The town’s health centre and a pub were shut after fears a so called ‘super spreader’ had visited both.
Stocks of hand sanitizer quickly sold out at the two pharmacists in the high street while many locals were angry that they were not told who was carrying the virus.
Trade at local shops plunged by more than half after the town became the focus of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK.
The town of Hindhead is three miles from Haslemere where a local pub The Prince of Wales has been closed since the weekend after being visited by one of those with the virus.
The Haslemere Health Centre also closed, but re-opened after a deep clean. St Edmunds has 470 pupils aged from two to 16.
Its former pupils include TV presenter Jonathan Dimbleby and the current King of Jordan. Poet W.H.Auden and film director John Schlesinger are also ‘old boys’ at the school which was established in 1874.
One of the parents whose child is at the school is Professor Trudie Lang, who is a current advisor to the Chief Medical Officer and the UK Government.
Trade at local shops plunged by more than half after the town became the focus of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK
The full statement from the school said: ‘In the past few days St Edmund’s school was made aware that the father and mother of one of the pupils has been confirmed as cases of COVID-19.
‘Contact assessments have been made for each parent and several other parents of the school have gone into self-isolation as a precaution.
‘The pupil is well and is self-isolating at home as a precautionary measure. No pupil or member of staff has been confirmed as a case of the virus.
‘The school has been in discussion with, and taken advice from, Public Health England (PHE) who have carried out contact assessments. PHE have advised that at this time there is no action for the school to take.
‘Should this situation change, PHE will be working closely with the school and updates will be released to parents.
‘The school is also supported with advice from current parent Professor Trudie Lang, who is the Professor of Global Health Research at Oxford University and a current advisor to the Chief Medical Officer and UK government.’
Headmaster Adam Walliker comments: ‘whilst there is uncertainty about the Coronavirus, the evidence is that it appears to pose a very low risk to children. We have a super team in our School Surgery and our excellent teaching and pastoral staff have been working hard to ensure that it is business as usual at school for the children.’
‘Hygiene at school remains a priority with an emphasis on good hand-washing and personal hygiene. The school is cleaned daily and disinfectant wipes used for computer screens.
‘A rolling programme of deep cleaning is in place. Regular assemblies and briefings are taking place for children, staff and parents. Sports matches continue to take place against other schools and a full programme of teaching and activities is in full swing. The new mountain bike competition trails are due to open this month and the indoor swimming pool remains in use by children from St Edmund’s and other schools.’