Coronavirus: Parliament could shut for months as UK cases rise to 115

5 March 2020, 17:01

Parliament could close down for up to five months
Parliament could close down for up to five months. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Parliament could reportedly close for five months as part of efforts to halt the spread of coronavirus as the impact of the outbreak starts to affect day-to-day lives.

Wednesday saw the largest day-on-day increase in coronavirus cases, with 115 people now confirmed to have the virus.

On Thursday morning the Scottish Government confirmed three new confirmed cases in the country.

And in the afternoon a further two people were confirmed to be suffering from the infection in Wigan.

Scotland's Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood said the new coronavirus patients are from the Forth Valley, Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Grampian areas and are all contacts of known cases.
In a statement, Dr Calderwood said: "Scotland is well equipped to deal with this kind of infection and we are doing everything we can to contain the virus at this stage and minimise the risk to the public."

Boris Johnson's battle plan to combat the spread of the virus includes asking workplaces to allow more staff to work from home.

The Times newspaper has reported plans are being drawn up that would mean the Commons and Lords not returning after Easter.

MPs rise on March 31 and sitting would be suspended until September in “the longest summer recess we have known”, one senior parliamentary source told the newspaper.

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The jump in confirmed cases comes as England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, warned that a UK epidemic is looking "likely".

As we reported yesterday, the Prime Minister announced new sick pay changes as part of emergency coronavirus legislation so that anyone self-isolating is paid from day one rather than day four as current rules state.

Boris Johnson told MPs that people who self-isolate are "helping to protect all of us by slowing the spread of the virus".

He added: "If they stay at home and if we ask people to self-isolate, they may lose out financially.

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"So, I can today announce that the Health Secretary will bring forward, as part of our emergency coronavirus legislation, measures to allow the payment of statutory sick pay from the very first day you are sick instead of four days under the current rules, and I think that's the right way forward.

"Nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing."

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Prof Whitty said the new cases in the UK included 32 patients from England.

"Twenty-nine patients were diagnosed who had recently travelled from recognised countries or from recognised clusters which were under investigation," he said.

"Three additional patients contracted the virus in the UK and it is not yet clear whether they contracted it directly or indirectly from an individual who had recently returned from abroad. This is being investigated and contact tracing has begun."

The Department of Health has been updating the UK figures daily, with one Northern Ireland case among the 85 recorded at 2pm on Wednesday.

However, Northern Ireland later confirmed two more cases, taking the UK total to 87.

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Earlier, Prof Whitty told reporters there could be a need to do "extreme things" to protect the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions.

He added: "At this point in time we think it is likely, not definite, that we will move into onward transmission and an epidemic here in the UK."
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But he stressed that for most people, "this will be a mild or moderate disease, anything from a sniffle to having to go to bed for a few days, rather like with mild flu".

He said if the UK sees a very large epidemic, "then it will put very high pressure on the NHS", and there could be "several weeks which could be very difficult" for the health service and wider society.

Prof Whitty suggested that shutting down cities in the UK would not be effective now.

He said: "Closing cities is really only appropriate if you have a significant epidemic in one particular place and almost nothing anywhere else.

"It made sense for China to respond in the way it did but it would be very unlikely here ... This is now in multiple places in Europe and around the world."
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A letter to NHS trusts has also been published telling them to ramp up their plans for tackling Covid-19, including seeing patients via video-link.

It sets out that a level 4 NHS incident has been declared - the highest level - meaning extra steps are needed.

Former business secretary Andrea Leadsom said preparations for a no-deal Brexit had aided the Government's response to the coronavirus outbreak.

She told Sky News: "Ironically, I think a lot of the work we did last year preparing for the supposed no-deal Brexit on 31 October has stood the Government in incredibly good stead - looking at packages of support and how you might be able to help companies keep going should something dramatic happen.

"I'm quite sure that some of that will be being dusted off with a view to looking at how that could be adapted."

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

A new Government publicity campaign seeks to drive home the message that regular hand-washing is the single most important action individuals can take in the fight against Covid-19.

The new adverts say hand-washing should be for 20 seconds, using soap and water or hand sanitiser.

Government scientific experts predict the UK's coronavirus outbreak could last around four to six months.

Globally, there are now more than 90,000 cases worldwide, with more than 3,000 deaths.