THE UK’S HEALTH Secretary has not ruled out shutting down cities if the coronavirus outbreak escalates as he outlined a new “battle plan” by the British government.
Matt Hancock said despite a “huge economic and social downside”, following China’s lead and isolating UK cities if the situation worsens currently remains on the table.
He conceded it was “inevitable” that the deadly virus would continue to spread after three new cases were identified in the UK, including a staff member at an infant school.
On isolating entire cities, as Chinese authorities did with Wuhan, Hancock told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme: “There is clearly a huge economic and social downside to that.
“But we don’t take anything off the table at this stage because you have to make sure you have all the tools available if that is what is necessary.”
The Health Secretary confirmed that “population distancing measures”, such as banning public gatherings and cancelling football matches, could be considered by the Government, while closing schools may be “necessary”.
He said: “I’m not saying any of these are decisions we have taken but they are things we don’t rule out.”
Worldwide, about 87,000 people have been infected and nearly 3,000 people killed since the virus was first detected late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
China reported a fresh spike in infections today, with 573 new cases – the highest figure in a week after a dip. All but three of them were in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital.
The virus has spread to more than 60 countries around the globe, prompting the World Health Organisation to raise its risk assessment to its highest level.
According to the most extensive study done so far, the novel coronavirus was benign in 80.9% of cases, “serious” in 13.8% and “critical” in 4.7%. The remaining 0.6% was not specified.
Part of the reason Covid-19 has been declared a public health emergency is due to the speed at which it has spread compared to other coronaviruses (like Sars and Mers) and the fact that there’s a lot about the disease we still don’t know – including how exactly it’s being transmitted.
The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care announced on Sunday every department will have a ministerial lead on the virus, and a cross-Whitehall “war room” is being set up to roll out an enhanced public information campaign.
Emergency powers designed to restrict Covid-19 if it becomes endemic, due to be revealed this week, would only be “temporary”, said Hancock.
He added the NHS was ready to deal with further cases of coronavirus, with more than 5,000 emergency critical care beds available.
The number of emergency meetings convened by the UK government is to be increased, which comes amid criticism of Boris Johnson for failing to lead a Cobra contingencies committee on the outbreak until tomorrow.
Three more patients in England tested positive for coronavirus yesterday, while the Republic of Ireland reported its first patient.
One of those confirmed was a staff member at an infant school in Berkshire.
In an email, Willow Bank Infant School headteacher Michelle Masters urged parents to “remain calm and follow the recommended hygiene procedures”.
“The school will be shut for some days to allow for a deep clean and to ensure that the risk of infection remain(s) low,” Masters said.
Health officials are also tracing anyone who had close contact with the other two latest cases – a resident in the Cotswolds area of Gloucestershire, and another in Hertfordshire.
Two of the patients had recently travelled back from Italy while the other had returned from Asia, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said.
A pub in Haslemere, Surrey, has been closed until further notice for deep cleaning after a customer “tested positive for coronavirus”.
A patient in the county was confirmed as the first to catch the illness within the UK on Friday.
The landlords of the Prince of Wales pub said on Facebook that they had no symptoms of the virus and that it was a “precautionary measure only”.