The number of people who have tested positive for coronavirus has jumped to 51, the Health Secretary has confirmed.
Speaking from Parliament, Matt Hancock said the response to the outbreak remains in the containment phase, and the government's current approach is to 'plan for the worst and work for the best'. He told MPs experts are 'actively pursuing' a vaccine to the Covid-19 strain of coronavirus, but warned it is still many months away at the earliest.
The updated toll was released as Boris Johnson said it is 'highly likely' the UK will see a growing number of coronavirus cases. But the Prime Minister stressed that 'for the vast majority of people in this country we should be going about our business as usual'.
During a press conference in 10 Downing Street, Mr Johnson outlined the Government's plan to 'contain, delay, research, mitigate' a potentially serious outbreak. He warned that up to one fifth of employees in all sectors 'may be absent from work during peak weeks', and police would have to concentrate on serious crimes and public order if forces suffer large staff absences during an outbreak.
The plan includes a 'war room' to bring together communications experts and scientists from across Government and the NHS to roll out a public information campaign. Other measures could see people discouraged from unnecessary travel, workers urged to stay at home, and retired doctors and nurses asked to return to work to help deal with patients.
England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said probably around 1% of people who get coronavirus might end up dying, but the death rate varies according to age group. Experts have also warned the Covid-19 strain is new and people have a lack of immunity to it, meaning it 'has the potential to spread extensively'.
The PM's coronavirus document says the public can help delay spread of the virus by washing hands with soap regularly, not spreading misinformation and relying on trusted sources, and ensuring family vaccines are up to date and checking on family, friends and neighbours.
People should also check Foreign Office advice before travelling abroad and be understanding of the pressures the health service is under.
The public will further be asked to accept that 'the advice for managing Covid-19 for most people will be self-isolation at home and simple over the counter medicines.' The document also warns it is possible that an outbreak or pandemic of Covid-19 could come in multiple waves.
In hospitals, non-urgent operations and other procedures could be cancelled, and hospital discharges monitored to free up beds, with appropriate care in people's homes. Hospital worker shifts could also be altered, and leavers or retirees called 'back to duty'.
Other measures could include cancelling big events like the London Marathon and giving Border Force officials powers to act if they spot people with the virus.
Legislation allowing the Government to use extra powers to help control Covid-19 is expected to go through Parliament by the end of the month.
The Health Secretary said the number of home ventilation kits is being expanded.
On whether the NHS would be able to cope if the virus reaches pandemic level, Mr Hancock told ITV's Good Morning Britain: 'A lot of people, not least because it is mild, will be best off at home than in hospital, so we are expanding the number of home ventilation kits that are available so that can be done.
'The NHS, of course, has a full plan for this and prepares for this even when there isn't an outbreak.'
Mr Hancock also told BBC Breakfast that the action plan would set out measures to deal with the virus now, to delay the spread, and, if it becomes a pandemic, actions that 'we might have to take to mitigate it'.
He added: 'It's quite unusual for a Government to publish a plan with things in it we hope we won't have to do.'
Asked about the cancellation of mass gatherings such as the London Marathon at the end of April, Mr Hancock said: 'It's far too early to be able to tell in that instance.
'What we can say for sure is that, right now, we do not recommend the cancelling of mass events, and schools as well should not be closing unless there is both a positive case and the school has had the advice to close from Public Health England.
'So, right now, as long as you wash your hands more often that is the number one thing you can do to keep you and the country safe.
'And capture a sneeze or a cough if you have one and then follow the public health advice if you've travelled from one of the affected areas.
'Right now, that is what people should be doing and otherwise going about their normal daily life because we want to minimise the level of disruption, subject to doing the things we need to do to keep people safe.'
National coronavirus plan: What are the key points?
Here are the key points from the Government's plan to tackle coronavirus in the UK.
- If police lose 'significant staff' numbers to illness, they would 'concentrate on responding to serious crimes and maintaining public order'.
- In a 'stretching scenario', it is possible that up to one fifth of employees may be absent from work during peak weeks.
- Everyone will face increased pressures at work, as well as potentially their own illness and caring responsibilities. Supporting staff welfare 'will be critical' for businesses.
- The UK has stockpiles of medicines for the NHS, plus protective clothing and equipment for medical staff.
- The public can help delay the spread of the virus by washing hands with soap regularly, not spreading misinformation and relying on trusted sources. They should also ensure family vaccines are up to date and check on family, friends and neighbours. They should also check Foreign Office advice before travelling abroad and be understanding of the pressures the health service is under.
- The public will be asked to accept that 'the advice for managing Covid-19 for most people will be self-isolation at home and simple over the counter medicines'.
- If coronavirus becomes established, there will be a focus on essential services and helping those 'most at risk to access the right treatment'.
- During the mitigation phase, when the virus is much more widespread, 'pressures on services and wider society may become significant and clearly noticeable'.
- The Ministry of Defence will provide support as needed, including to essential services.
- There will be increased Government communication with Parliament, the public and the media if the virus becomes more widespread.
- All Government departments to have a lead person for coronavirus.
- If the virus takes hold, social distancing strategies could include school closures, encouraging greater home working, reducing the number of large scale gatherings and closing other educational settings.
- It is possible that an outbreak or pandemic of Covid-19 could come in multiple waves.
- Non-urgent operations and other procedures could be cancelled, and hospital discharges monitored to free-up beds, with appropriate care in people's homes.
- Hospital worker shifts could be altered and leavers or retirees called 'back to duty'.
- Measures exist to help businesses with short-term cash flow problems.
- There is a distribution strategy for sending out key medicines and equipment to NHS and social care.
- This strain of coronavirus is new and people have a lack of immunity to it, meaning 'Covid-19 has the potential to spread extensively'.
- Everyone is susceptible to catching the disease and thus it is 'more likely than not that the UK will be significantly affected'.
- There could be an 'increase in deaths arising from the outbreak, particularly among vulnerable and elderly groups'.
- While most people will suffer mild to moderate symptoms, similar to seasonal flu, some will need hospital care due to pneumonia developing.
- Young children can become infected and 'suffer severe illness', but overall the illness is less common in the under-20s.
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