BORIS Johnson will today step up coronavirus crisis plans as he chairs another emergency COBRA meeting following the UK’s third death from the bug last night.
The PM will take charge of the UK response today and decide whether to put in place drastic measures to curb the spread of the disease, as 278 cases were reported.
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Ministers will look at social distancing measures including banning big events, closing schools and encouraging Brits to work from home.
Britain is said to be just days from formally going from the “contain” phase to the “delay” phase as coronavirus spreads across the country.
Last night a man in his 60s with underlying health conditions became the third UK death linked to the disease.
It comes as:
- UK stock markers and bonds tumbled this morning in the biggest fall since 2008
- Ministers will also hold emergency talks with sports associations and UK supermarkets this morning to discuss their response to the crisis
- Shoppers are already panic-buying essentials amid fears they may run out
- The elderly will be told not to leave their homes if coronavirus gets out of control
- There are currently more than 106,000 cases of the bug globally, with more than 3,590 deaths
- Passengers arriving back in the UK from quarantined areas of Italy are still not being checked
Today Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden played down the chances of mass banning of events, and said it was “very premature” to be talking about it.
There are “no plans” to follow in the footsteps of France or other countries at the moment, he insisted.
He told BBC Breakfast: “We shouldn’t be cancelling events at this stage, but I just say as a caution that we do keep these things under review and that may change in the future but we certainly have no plans at this stage to take any such steps.”
However, last night former International Development Secretary Rory Stewart urged ministers to act now before it’s too late.
He said: “You must act as quickly as you can in a way that you’re not going to have any regrets… there will be so many voices around the table who are going to be pushing to say let’s just give it another day or two.
“My experience watching people deal with Ebola in the eastern Democratic Congo and indeed with other situations is you have to act early.”
He said he was keeping a keep eye on China, which has imposed draconian measures across its entire country, but it appears to be curbing the spread of the disease.
“My sense is aggressive containment and taking short-term economic damage is definitely worth doing if you can stave off the bigger spread,” he added.
Former Chancellor George Osborne urged ministers to use Wednesday’s Budget to “vaccinate the economy” against the deadly bug.
Rishi Sunak is set to reveal his economic plans in just a few days time, but the spread of the virus threatens to overshadow it completely.
Around 16 million people in Lombardy, Veneto and other regions have been placed under total lockdown with a ban on people entering and leaving.
The Foreign Office have advised against “all but essential travel” to the worst-hit regions.
But the travel advice still says that Brits will be given permission to fly home.
The Foreign Office say they do “advise” two-weeks of self-isolation upon returning from an affected region.
But there is nothing stopping passengers from hopping on public transport or entering densely populated spaces.