UK remains in 'contain phase' of coronavirus as fifth death confirmed

9 March 2020, 14:00 | Updated: 9 March 2020, 18:01

The PM hosted a Cobra meeting on the coronavirus outbreak
The PM hosted a Cobra meeting on the coronavirus outbreak. Picture: PA

Coronavirus will spread across the UK in a “significant” way, the Government has said, as a fifth death from the virus was confirmed.

Boris Johnson held an emergency Cobra meeting on Monday to discuss the country’s reaction to the Covid-19 outbreak as the number of cases in the UK rose to 280.

The UK remains in the “contain phase” of the outbreak, it was confirmed as the Cobra meeting continued.


The news came shortly before it was confirmed that a fifth patient, in their 70s, had died at St Helier Hospital in south London.

It also emerged today that 46 more cases had been identified in the UK, with a total of 319 people in the country confirmed to have the disease.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock arrives at the Cabinet Office, Whitehall, London, for a meeting of the Government's emergency committee Cobra
Health Secretary Matt Hancock arrives at the Cabinet Office, Whitehall, London, for a meeting of the Government's emergency committee Cobra. Picture: PA

Daniel Elkeles, chief executive for Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "We can confirm that sadly, a patient in their seventies who was very unwell with a number of significant and long-term health conditions has passed away at St Helier Hospital. They had tested positive for Covid-19.

"Our thoughts and condolences remain with the patient's family and loved ones at this difficult time."

After the Cobra meeting, a Number 10 spokesman said: “A range of steps were discussed to contain and delay the spread of the coronavirus in the coming weeks.

“We remain in the contain phase but it is now accepted that this virus is going to spread in a significant way, and that is why officials have been working at speed on further steps we can take to delay the spread of the virus.”

The Government is not currently advising the cancellation of large-scale events, such as sports matches, but said this advice could change in future.

The spokesman added: “The advice which we issue will depend on the circumstances and transmission of the virus and you can expect there to be updates.

“That doesn’t mean the information we were giving at the time was incorrect - it means that was what was appropriate at that moment in time.”

The Prime Minister was expected to tell those in attendance: "The number of coronavirus cases continues to rise in the UK and around the world.

"We are well prepared and will continue to make decisions to protect the public based on the latest scientific advice.

"Tackling coronavirus will require a national and international effort. I am confident the British people are ready to play their part in that.

"The most valuable thing people can do is wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds."

After the meeting, first minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster said a "common sense" approach was needed and that any decision about cancelling large public and sporting events would be "led by the scientific advisers."

"This is a big issue for the nation, there's no getting away from it. What we must do is try to mitigate and delay this disease becoming a real issue for the whole of the UK," she said.

"We are led by scientific advisers...but it is all about timing and taking the appropriate intervention at the appropriate time.

"Take a common sense approach to this, I think that's very important."

The announcement came after:

- The Foreign Office said it was "working intensively" with US authorities on arranging a flight for British nationals on the coronavirus-hit Grand Princess cruise ship due to arrive in Oakland, California, on Monday.

- British tourists were warned to avoid all but essential travel to a swathe of northern Italy under a coronavirus quarantine, including the popular destinations of Milan and Venice.

- Travellers returning from lockdown areas in northern Italy were advised to self-isolate if they have returned to the UK in the last 14 days, even if have they no coronavirus symptoms.

- A surgical high dependency unit run by the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust temporarily closed to new admissions after a healthcare professional tested positive for coronavirus.

- Prime Minister Boris Johnson said medical advice did not point to "any need for people to buy stuff in", amid reports of people panic-buying in shops.