Ministers could bring in emergency laws to keep the country moving if a full-blown coronavirus epidemic sweeps the nation.
Crisis legislation to grant sweeping new powers to public bodies are being considered by senior MPs, according to reports.
The government's emergency COBRA committee will finally meet on Monday after Boris Johnson agreed to chair crisis talks.
Measures being considered reportedly include…
- Letting schools scrap maximum class sizes and hold lessons outside school in the event of widespread staff absences;
- Suspending lorry drivers' 56-hours-a-week limit behind the wheel to keep supply chains moving if many truckers fall ill;
- Sending army doctors into hospitals as a "worst case scenario" if NHS staff levels collapse.
Professor Chris Witty, England's chief medical officer, has told the government it may also have to consider restricting mass gatherings, closing schools and stopping public transport.
He claimed such measures would "flatten the peak" of the virus.
Prof Witty said, according to The Times : “Flattening the peak is very good for the NHS, it may not be good for society, and we’re going have to think that through.”
It is hoped these measures could delay a full-blown outbreak until the summer, when NHS services are under less pressure and viruses spread more slowly.
The UK’s coronavirus pandemic plan is due to be published next week.
It comes after health leaders confirmed on Friday that a 20th patient had tested positive for the virus in Britain – and that it had been passed on within the country.
The patient – from Surrey – is now being treated at a specialist NHS infection centre in London.
Meanwhile, a British man, reported to be in his 70s and said to have lived abroad, was confirmed as the first UK citizen to die from coronavirus.
The man, who was on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship which has been quarantined off Japan's coast amid the outbreak, was the sixth person from the vessel to have died.
Health Minister Helen Whately said it was "likely" more people in the UK would contract coronavirus and that plans were in place should it become a pandemic.
The Conservative MP told BBC Newsnight: "I can't reiterate enough that we are well prepared but we do have to recognise that it is likely we will see more cases in the UK.
"We have plans in place and have carried out exercises so in the event of something like a 'flu pandemic, we are ready."
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