No tactics will be “off the table” in the UK government’s plan to contain coronavirus, the health secretary says.
Matt Hancock said an emergency “battle plan”, drawn up if the virus spreads further, includes banning big events, closing schools and dissuading people from using public transport.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr the plans were for the “worst-case scenario”.
Mr Hancock said the UK remained in the “containment” phase with 23 confirmed cases – but more are expected.
The government contingency plans, which will be published this week, include that newly-retired doctors and nurses could be asked to return to the NHS.
If the outbreak worsens, people could also be urged to work from home.
A minister in every government department will be focused on tackling the outbreak while a team of experts will drive a public health campaign.
On Saturday evening, Willow Bank Infant School in Woodley, Berkshire, issued a statement saying one of its members of staff had tested positive for the virus – and it would be closing for a deep clean.
Meanwhile, more than 200 British holidaymakers locked down at a quarantined hotel in Tenerife have been told they will be allowed to fly home, if they test negative for coronavirus.
The travellers have been quarantined at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel since Tuesday after four Italians contracted the virus. Some have already been allowed to leave.
The Foreign Office is in contact with operators and travel agents about their plans to return Britons to the UK.
Wash hands for 20 seconds
The government says it will publish its “updated action plan” on its response to the virus, which causes the disease Covid-19, later this week.
It is based on existing plans for a pandemic flu outbreak – but has been adapted for the coronavirus.
The plan includes holding extra meetings for the government’s emergency committee, Cobra.
Also, a team of scientists and media experts will be set up to work on a public information campaign from a so-called “war room” in the Cabinet Office. This will see posters and social media adverts telling people to wash their hands for 20 seconds or more with soap and water.
Whitehall officials say they will be working closely with their counterparts in the devolved administrations.
Meanwhile, the Scottish government says it is increasing tests for coronavirus to all people with flu-like symptoms, even those who have not travelled to an affected area. No one in Scotland has so far tested positive.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who will chair a Cobra meeting on Monday, said: “Coronavirus may very well be a challenge in the weeks and months ahead.
“But I have no doubt that with the help of the NHS and its incomparable staff this country will get through it and beat it.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “every part of government is working together to share the responsibility of tackling the health, economic, and social impacts… but cannot do this alone.
“Every single person has a role to play in helping to manage the spread of the virus – whether that’s washing your hands more often, catching your sneezes, and following clinical advice.”
Infant school closed
More than 10,000 people have now been tested for the virus in the UK.
Currently, the UK is in the “containment” phase – where the strategy is to isolate people with the virus in hospital and trace who they came into contact with.
Health leaders say current containment measures may still be sufficient.
But the next phase could see broader “social distancing” measures – such as urging more people to work from home and discouraging unnecessary travel, the government said.
Rules around class sizes in schools could also be relaxed in the event of widespread staff shortages and there could be “emergency registration” of health professionals who have retired.
The Berkshire school staff member is thought to be among three UK coronavirus cases confirmed on Saturday. The others are from Gloucestershire and Hertfordshire.
Chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty said two of them had recently returned from Italy, while the other had come back from Asia.
Health officials are still trying to find out how a man from Surrey caught the virus, after he became the first person to be infected within the UK.
The man, who is being treated at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in central London, had not been abroad recently – unlike the other cases in the UK.
Officials are also trying to trace people who had contact with him.
Ten more cases of the virus in the UK in just over two days might raise eyebrows, but health officials say all but one can be easily explained because the patients have travelled from the most affected countries, including northern Italy and Iran.
Since the first UK cases were confirmed in York – two Chinese nationals – positive tests have been recorded in the south of England, Derbyshire, south Wales and Northern Ireland.
Of potential concern is the case in Surrey, a man who had not travelled abroad.
Public health officials are tracing his contacts to see if his infection can be explained by another individual who has arrived in the UK from abroad.
In other developments:
- Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has tested negative for the virus. The Foreign Office said he self-isolated after feeling unwell this week – and has returned to work since the test result
- The Foreign Office has called on Iran to “immediately allow” health officials to examine Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – a British-Iranian woman jailed in Iran. Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said he suspected she had the virus but said prison staff were refusing to test her
- The Republic of Ireland has confirmed its first case. Health officials said the man, from the eastern part of the country, was associated with travel from an affected area in northern Italy
- The first person in the US to die from coronavirus was a man in his 50s with underlying health conditions, officials say
- Australia and Thailand also recorded their first fatalities from the virus on Sunday. The 78-year-old Australian man died after being infected on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. Thailand said the 35-year-old man who died of the virus had also been suffering from dengue fever
- France has temporarily banned gatherings of more than 5,000 people “in confined spaces” as it reported a jump in cases
- And there has been a jump of cases in a South Korean religious sect which has been identified as a coronavirus hotbed. Some 8,946 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus are now showing symptoms of the virus, according to officials
What do I need to know about the coronavirus?
- WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS? A simple guide
- WAYS TO PREVENT CATCHING IT: How to wash your hands
- WHERE ARE WE WITH A VACCINE? Progress so far
- A VISUAL GUIDE TO THE OUTBREAK: Virus maps and charts
- WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR MY HOLIDAY? Your rights as a traveller
The World Health Organization has raised its global risk assessment of the virus to its top level, “very high”.
Globally, more than 85,000 people have been infected, with cases in more than 57 countries. Nearly 3,000 people have died – the vast majority in China’s Hubei province, where the outbreak originated in December.
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