Coronavirus: PM to hold Cobra meeting on emergency measures

16 March 2020, 05:50

Boris Johnson will host an emergency meeting before addressing the nation
Boris Johnson will host an emergency meeting before addressing the nation. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Prime Minister will chair a Cobra emergency meeting on Monday to discuss strengthening anti-Covid-19 measures and could make a decision on shielding elderly citizens, banning mass gatherings and household isolation.

Boris Johnson will chair the meeting of senior ministers and officials from across Whitehall before addressing the nation in the first daily press conference which is planned to update the public on coronavirus.

As we reported yesterday Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that over-70s could be told to self-isolate for up to four months within the "coming weeks".

The PM is expected to discuss the proposal, as well as banning mass gatherings and isolating entire households if one member shows symptoms, during the emergency meeting.

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On Sunday the Health Secretary said the government would "stop at nothing" to minimise the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Other plans being considered by the Prime Minister include emergency laws that will include giving police the power to arrest infected citizens.

The PM will also on Monday ask British manufacturers including the Unipart Group to support the production of essential medical equipment for the NHS, such as ventilators which are desperately in need.

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Mr Johnson will also speak with all G7 leaders including US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss a co-ordinated global response to the pandemic.

Amid criticism over a lack of transparency, Downing Street announced plans to hold daily televised press conferences so either the PM or a senior minister can face scrutiny.

Mr Johnson will be joined by chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance on Monday.

Some in the scientific community have criticised the Government for taking a slower and more relaxed response to the pandemic than other countries.

But restrictive measures could be announced during the conference.

The Department of Health and Social Care said on Sunday that 14 more patients have died after testing positive for the virus, bringing the UK-wide total to 35.

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

The number of confirmed positive tests reached 1,372, but the true figure of people in the UK with the disease is likely to be far higher.

A Public Health England (PHE) briefing, reported by the Guardian, warned health chiefs that the epidemic in the UK could last until spring next year and could lead up to 7.9 million people being hospitalised.

Dr Susan Hopkins, PHE's national infection service deputy director, said: "PHE used reasonable worse-case scenario figures, to restate the importance for people with symptoms to stay at home, including health care workers in order to reduce the spread of the virus."

The document's estimate that 15% of the nation could be hospitalised was understood to have been extrapolated from data reported by other nations.

A Bill detailing emergency powers to deal with the outbreak is expected to be published on Thursday.

The pandemic has continued to wreak havoc with cultural and sporting events across the UK and further afield.

All elite football matches have been postponed until at least next month and the Premier League is set to meet on Thursday to discuss potential next steps.

Meanwhile London's Old Vic Theatre has suspended the run of Endgame, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Cumming, for the rest of its two week run.

It said: "We are very sympathetic to people's personal circumstances, as we are to the audiences who are still excited to visit the theatre and see our productions.

"We are also extremely aware of our employees' financial dependence on work being presented and tickets being purchased.

"So it is with great sadness that we have had to decide to suspend the presentation of Endgame in a double bill with Rough for Theatre II for the next two weeks, which is the remainder of its run."