UK response to coronavirus outbreak set to enter ‘delay’ phase

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Boris Johnson is expected to accept that the coronavirus outbreak can no longer be contained in the UK, signalling the start of the next phase in the battle against Covid-19.

The prime minister will chair a Cobra meeting at lunchtime on 12 March where ministers are expected to agree to move into the “delay” stage of the process.

Moving to delay would mean social distancing measures could be brought in, such as restricting public gatherings and issuing more widespread advice to stay at home.

The expected shift in UK policy came as Donald Trump escalated the US response to coronavirus, slapping a travel ban on continental Europe.

The suspension of travel between the United States and Europe – excluding the UK and Ireland – will last for 30 days starting on 13 March.

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak played down the prospect of the UK imposing similar travel restrictions, saying “the evidence here doesn’t support that”.

The Cobra meeting comes after eight people with Covid-19 were confirmed to have died in the UK, while the total number of positive cases rose to 460.

A Cabinet minister, who has not been named, was self-isolating while awaiting a test result after coming into contact with health minister Nadine Dorries.

Dorries is self-isolating at home after being diagnosed with the illness.

A source confirmed fellow health minister Edward Argar is also self-isolating at home “as a precaution” after having lunch with Dorries.

Sunak told the BBC: “This has obviously now impacted Parliament and government, and we are dealing with it, like all other businesses are going to have to start dealing with it.”

Public Health England was carrying out a “very thorough and rigorous process” to trace people who had been in close contact with Dorries, he said.

On Wednesday, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said the number of cases outside China has increased 13-fold in the past two weeks, and the number of affected countries has tripled.

He said there had been “alarming levels of inaction” in some parts of the world.

But Dr Tedros advised that despite the change in the language, WHO is still advising countries to remain in the containment phase.

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