School closures and home working were among the measures proposed by the government to tackle the spread of coronavirus, as it warned an outbreak could lead to one fifth of workers being absent. There are currently 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK, following 13,911 tests and with only one recorded death of a Briton who contracted the virus on a cruise ship in Japan.
Boris Johnson set out his "battle plan" for tackling an outbreak yesterday, promising the government would take "all necessary and reasonable steps.”. The plan takes a four-pronged approach to deal with the crisis (contain, delay, research, mitigate). It includes a public information campaign and plans for the army could be called in if police and fire services are struggling. At the action plan launch, the country’s chief scientific officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, said there was “absolutely no reason” for people to panic buy everyday food items and cleaning products.
As part of the emergency planning, ministers are reportedly looking at changing sick pay rules that unions say risk public health by encouraging employees, especially those on zero hours contracts, to work while unwell. The government is also planning legislation creating powers it can use if medical experts deem “social distancing” is necessary to control the spread of the coronavirus. These are expected to include the power to detain people at the border for the purposes of carrying out medical checks; allowing more court hearings via video link; and enabling the government to shut down large-scale public events. The Daily Mail reports that a breath test that could be used to rapidly screen people for the coronavirus has been developed by a team at Northumbria University. While it needs further testing, experts believe it could change the way the virus is spotted around the world.
NHS England yesterday declared the coronavirus outbreak a “level four incident,” its highest emergency rating. It ordered hospitals to review their intensive care bed numbers and to investigate offering video-based consultations. At the same time, NHS bosses ramped up their efforts to detect COVID-19 by ordering all 135 acute hospital trusts in England to routinely test anyone in intensive care units (ICUs) who has a breathing problem. After the government confirmed contingency plans to call back to work NHS “leavers and retirees” to help relieve pressure on the workforce, a majority of 120 former employees who responded to a Guardian callout were resistant or hostile to the idea, with many saying it would threaten their physical and mental health.
A memorial for novelist Sir Vidia Naipaul due to take place at the National Portrait Gallery next week has been postponed and there is speculation over which other events COVID-19 may affect. London Marathon bosses are reportedly holding crisis talks over next month’s race, while Glastonbury organisers say they are continuing to plan for the festival, while “monitoring the fast-moving situation.” There are also reports that the new Bond film, No Time to Die, may release as early as next week.
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