The government’s plan for dealing with the spread of the coronavirus says the police would “concentrate on responding to serious crimes and maintaining public order” if they suffered large staff absences. When asked about the possibility of bringing in the army if the police suffer staff shortages, the Boris Johnson said: “The army is of course always ready to backfill as and when but that is under a reasonable worst case scenario.” The document also warns that “in a stretching scenario”, it is possible that up to one fifth of employees in all sectors “may be absent from work during peak weeks.”
If the virus takes hold in serious cases, social distancing strategies could include school closures, encouraging greater home working, reducing the number of large scale gatherings and closing other educational settings.
The UK has so far confirmed 39 cases of the coronavirus, and Mr Johnson said on Monday a “very significant expansion” was possible.
The advice says the public can help delay the spread of the virus by washing their hands with soap on a regular basis, not spreading misinformation and relying on trusted sources.
The document also advises ensuring ensuring family vaccines are up to date and checking on family, friends and neighbours.
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People should also check advice from the Foreign Office before planning travel abroad, and consider the pressures the NHS is under as a result from the coronavirus outbreak.
The public is being asked to accept that “the advice for managing Covid-19 for most people will be self-isolation at home and simple over the counter medicines.”
In hospitals, non-urgent operations and several other procedures could be cancelled or postponed, and hospital discharges monitored to free up beds.
The work shifts of hospital employees could also be changed, with leavers or retirees called “back to duty”.
Coronavirus: Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance
Mr Johnson warned it is “highly likely” the UK will see a surge in coronavirus cases.
Speaking during a press conference at 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister said: “Let me be absolutely clear that for the overwhelming majority of people who contract the virus this will be a mild disease from which they will speedily and fully recover as we have already seen.
“But I fully understand public concern, your concern, about the global spread of the virus and it is highly likely that we will see a growing number of UK cases.
“That’s why keeping the country safe is the Government’s overriding priority, and our plan means we are committed to doing everything possible, based on the advice of our world-leading scientific experts, to prepare for all eventualities.”
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Health Secretary Matt Hancock had earlier said the action plan would set out measures to deal with the virus now, to delay the spread, and, if it becomes a pandemic, actions that “we might have to take to mitigate it”.
He told BBC Breakfast: “It’s quite unusual for a Government to publish a plan with things in it we hope we won’t have to do.”
Mr Hancock also said this morning the number of home ventilation kits is being expanded.
When asked whether the NHS would be able to cope if the virus reaches pandemic level, he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “A lot of people, not least because it is mild, will be best off at home than in hospital, so we are expanding the number of home ventilation kits that are available so that can be done.
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“The NHS, of course, has a full plan for this and prepares for this even when there isn’t an outbreak.”
The Health Secretary also said there are no current plans to cancel or postpone mass public events in the UK, as has been the case in a number of countries heavily impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
He added: “It’s far too early to be able to tell in that instance.
“What we can say for sure is that, right now, we do not recommend the cancelling of mass events, and schools as well should not be closing unless there is both a positive case and the school has had the advice to close from Public Health England.
Coronavirus: Matt Hancock said there are no current plans to cancel or postpone mass public events in the UK
“So, right now, as long as you wash your hands more often that is the number one thing you can do to keep you and the country safe.
“And capture a sneeze or a cough if you have one and then follow the public health advice if you’ve travelled from one of the affected areas.
“Right now, that is what people should be doing and otherwise going about their normal daily life because we want to minimise the level of disruption, subject to doing the things we need to do to keep people safe.”