Coronavirus: PM to chair Cobra meeting as UK infected reaches 39

2 March 2020, 06:38 | Updated: 2 March 2020, 19:31

The PM will chair the meeting on Monday
The PM will chair the meeting on Monday. Picture: PA

Boris Johnson has said there is little doubt coronavirus will present a "significant challenge" for the UK as he prepares to chair a Cobra meeting.

Monday's meeting of the top emergency committee will be the first the Prime Minister has chaired in relation to the virus as he finalises the steps ministers will take should the outbreak worsen.

The meeting will be attended by senior ministers as well as chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, as they ratify the Government's proposed countermeasures.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is also expected to take part in the meeting as cases of the virus have now been confirmed in every single country in the UK.

Meanwhile, the Health Secretary has said it was now "inevitable" that the deadly virus would "become endemic" in the UK as it was announced on Sunday that 13 more cases of Covid-19 had been diagnosed.

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It brings the total number of people to have contracted coronavirus in the UK to 39, with Scotland declaring its first case.

A clinician at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Northwood, Middlesex, had been confirmed positive but has since tested negative, East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health confirmed the total figure for the UK had dropped to 39 as a result.

There are now more than 80,000 cases of Covid-19 worldwide and about 3,000 deaths.

The PM is set to tell those at the crunch meeting: "The number of coronavirus cases around the world is rising every day - and the UK is no exception.

"There now seems little doubt that it will present a significant challenge for our country.

"But we are well prepared, and the Government and the NHS will stop at nothing to fight this virus.

"This battle plan lays out in detail the measures we could use - if and when they are needed."

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Mr Johnson had been dubbed a "part-time" prime minister by critics for failing to take charge of a Cobra meeting before this week.

Read more: Family self-isolated due to 'people’s fears' over coronavirus

The Conservative Party leader has delegated to his ministers to lead the sessions since they were first put into action in January.

But Mr Johnson took a more active role in dealing with the situation on Sunday when he visited a Public Health England lab in Colindale, north London, where tests are being carried out on suspected coronavirus samples.

The PM then headed to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead to meet with staff who are treating patients with the virus.

Work will start on Monday in the "war room" in the Cabinet Office, which will bring together experts to respond to public fears.

Read more: Brighton shop owner asks customers to wear masks and gloves amid coronavirus fear

Emergency powers set to be unveiled this week to help combat the virus include suspending rules about the maximum numbers of children that a single teacher can be responsible for.

The temporary measures will also allow for emergency medical registrations to create a "Dad's Army" of retired doctors to back up an already under-strain NHS.

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In a sign of how far the Government fears coronavirus could escalate, Secretary of State Mr Hancock refused to rule out putting British cities on lockdown, in an echo of how China looked to first contain the virus to its Wuhan epicentre.

A Mail on Sunday report suggested that Parliament could shut its gates if the situation worsens, with the Government considering banning all major public events.