Coronavirus UK: Boris's 'battle plan' will urge workers to stay at home

3 March 2020, 06:19 | Updated: 3 March 2020, 07:13

Calling up an army of retired doctors and nurses is one measure Boris Johnson will announce
Calling up an army of retired doctors and nurses is one measure Boris Johnson will announce. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Workers could be urged to stay at home, under the UK's so-called battle plan to tackle the spread of coronavirus.

Boris Johnson will tell the nation that his Government is "ready to take necessary steps" to contain coronavirus and protect the vulnerable.

The Downing Street launch is expected to include a new "war room" which will bring together communications experts and scientists from across government and the NHS to roll out a public information campaign.

The PM will launch the new strategy in Downing Street today — joined by Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

They will lay out the Government’s four-stage plan — contain, delay, research and mitigate.

Read more: Coronavirus: What is a pandemic and how is one declared?

Should the spread of the virus worsen, the Government will introduce a "social distancing" strategy which would encourage more people to work from home and avoid public transport.

Ministers will re-iterate that existing powers allow them to limit the use of public transport and ban mass gatherings. But they are expected to stress that, given the social and economic impact of such a move, such measures are more likely to be used to curb local outbreaks than imposed nationwide.

The PM will also announce plans to recall retired doctors and nurses to duty to help deal with the fallout from the outbreak.

The Prime Minister said: "We have agreed a plan, which I will set out in detail, so if the virus should spread, we are ready to take necessary steps to contain it and protect the most vulnerable."

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.

Following an emergency Cobra meeting on Monday, at which ministers discussed the "battle plan", Mr Johnson said coronavirus is "highly likely" to spread more widely.

While he has insisted the NHS is well prepared to deal with any outbreak, a doctors' group warned there are concerns an already-stretched health service will not cope in the event of a huge increase in cases.

Read more: Coronavirus UK: Do surgical face masks work to avoid virus symptoms?

The Doctors' Association UK said just eight of 1,618 medics surveyed felt the NHS was ready for coronavirus.

Health officials have been saying for weeks that the public can play their part by washing their hands regularly, and Mr Johnson on Monday advised people should do so for the length of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.

But despite the public health campaign, a YouGov poll suggested 54 per cent of people have not been taking any extra steps to protect themselves.

Health leaders have announced an extra £1.7 million investment in the NHS non-emergency helpline to offer more clinical advice about coronavirus, and NHS England has put a new NHS 111 online service in place after a surge in inquiries.

With global markets hit by the spread of Covid-19, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to use his budget next week to outline measures to support the economy, having ordered officials to work up plans to bolster the public health response, businesses and the economy.

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

All the new UK cases announced on Monday were people who had recently travelled to Italy, which is experiencing the biggest outbreak in Europe.

Government sources said it could be "months rather than weeks" before the outbreak peaks in the UK.

In a suggestion that extra emergency powers would not be required immediately, the source said: "We don't want to have to take decisions before we have to. As much as possible we want people to carry on with their daily lives."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that while the UK is focused on containment of the disease for now, the next phase - if the global spread continues - will be attempting to slow the spread and push the virus peak further towards the warmer summer weather.

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

The European Commission on Monday raised the coronavirus risk level from moderate to high for those in the European Union and the UK.

The UK cases include a worker at the North East London NHS Foundation Trust offices at Vinters Business Park near Maidstone in Kent, a pupil from a secondary school in Torbay, a patient at Davenport House GP surgery in Harpenden and the parent of a pupil at school in Stevenage.

Three of the new cases in England were linked to a man from Surrey, who was infected within the UK.

Read more: ‘Don’t die, please buy’ Glasgow newsagent sells out entire stock of coronavirus face masks

As the outbreak continues to dominate global headlines, parents have reported that children in playgrounds are playing a "coronavirus game", with one mother describing it as a cross between tag and stuck in the mud.

British Airways said it had cancelled hundreds of upcoming flights in March, including from Heathrow, Gatwick and London City airports

Ryanair has also reduced flights on some routes, in particular to and from Italy, by up to 25% due to a drop in demand.

Globally more than 88,000 cases of the disease have been confirmed, with more than 3,000 deaths.