Brit workers are expected to stay at home today in their millions despite the Government not ordering workplaces to close as the coronavirus crisis strikes fear into the heart of the nation.
Offices are due to have multiple staff members remote-working with laptops from the comfort of their own homes, leaving the bare minimum of employees at their desks for fear of spreading the killer disease.
Many retail brands have already closed stores. Nike, Urban Outfitters and Abercrombie and Fitch have all taken measures to shut branches temporarily.
Meanwhile Apple Inc. has closed all of its global stores outside mainland China until March 27.
Massive firms in London have had to active back-up plans to insure they keep running if their main offices have to shut for deep-cleans, including HSBC, JP Morgan and Google.
Professor Hugh Pennington, a leading public health expert, told the Sun this was all technically a precaution as there is no official order from the Government, but added that people should make sure to work from home if they had the option.
Prof Pennington, who is Emeritus Professor of Bacteriology at Aberdeen University, said it was still unlikely you could contract the disease at work but staying at home would reduce the risk.
To catch the killer bug, you need to be in close contact with someone who has it for 15 minutes. This means workers such as retail staff or waiters who interact with customers in short bursts might not be at risk.
“But if someone who is infected coughs or sneezes on you directly then the droplets can infect you — that will be a much higher risk,” said Prof Pennington.
He added: “I would say it is still unlikely that you will contract the virus by going into work but if you have the option to work from home then that will reduce the risk even more, so why not?"
The Prime Minister will chair an emergency meeting of the Cobra committee this afternoon with ministers to discuss shielding older Brits, banning mass gatherings and household isolation.
As the UK death toll reached 35 on Sunday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said over-70s could be told to stay home for up to four months within the "coming weeks".
Mr Johnson was expected to discuss this idea, as well as banning mass gatherings and isolating entire households if one member shows symptoms.
Other plans being include handing police powers to detain people with the virus who are not following the advice to protect the wider community by self-isolating.
A Public Health England (PHE) briefing, reported by the Guardian, warned health chiefs that the epidemic in the UK could last until spring next year and could lead up to 7.9 million people being hospitalised.
Dr Susan Hopkins, PHE's national infection service deputy director, said: "PHE used reasonable worse-case scenario figures, to restate the importance for people with symptoms to stay at home, including health care workers in order to reduce the spread of the virus."
Full details of the new emergency police powers are expected to be announced on Tuesday.
"We are going to take the powers to make sure that we can quarantine people if they are a risk to public health, yes, and that's important," Health Minister Matt Hancock told the BBC.
"I doubt that actually we will need to use it much because people have been very responsible."
Other European countries have gone into lockdown to prevent the coronavirus from spreading further.
The French government closed down all bars and restaurants at midnight last night, while residents in Italy have been told not to leave their homes except for urgent needs.
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