Swathes of Britain including cities and towns could be put on lockdown to try to stop the spread of coronavirus as Boris Johnson vowed to take charge of the Government response after accused of acting like a 'part-time Prime Minister'.
After UK cases hit 36 yesterday - an increase of 23 since Friday - Mr Johnson will lead a meeting of the Government's emergency committee Cobra this morning for the first time as he seeks to reassure the country he has got a grip on the crisis.
The PM has acknowledged the figure would continue to increase in the coming days, despite frantic efforts to contain the spread of the virus, as he visited Public Health England's testing lab in Colindale, London, yesterday.
Ministers are set to agree a 'battle plan' and when asked about closing off cities to stop the illness spreading, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said yesterday: 'We don't take anything off the table at this stage because you have to make sure you have all the tools available if that is what is necessary.'
He confirmed that 'population distancing measures', such as banning public gatherings, cancelling football matches and encouraging people to avoid public transport, could also be considered.
And on possible school closures after Japan closed all of them for a month from today, Mr Hancock added: 'It may be necessary, and I'm not saying any of these are decisions we have taken but they are things we don't rule out, to close some schools but right now people should not opt to be closing schools if there isn't a case and advice from Public Health England.'
A war room will now be set up in the Cabinet Office which will include NHS and communications chiefs to coordinate a response as the number of confirmed cases rose by 50 per cent to 36 yesterday
Boris Johnson will take charge of the Government response to the coronavirus outbreak today after being stung by claims he was acting like a 'part-time Prime Minister' (pictured at Public Health England's National Infection Service in Colindale on Sunday)
Mr Johnson acknowledged the figure would continue to increase in the coming days, despite frantic efforts to contain the spread of the virus
The global coronavirus death toll has hit 3,000 following a sudden spike in Italian cases.
Five fatalities were announced in Italy today, taking its death toll to 34 as infection continues to cripple the country's northern regions.
Total patient numbers rose to 1,694 after the Civil Protection Agency revealed roughly 500 fresh positive tests this evening - an alarming 50 per cent climb in just 24 hours.
The outbreak is the second largest outside of mainland China and is steadily seeping across the continent, despite the infection hotbeds of Lombardy and Veneto on lock-down.
Ministers in Rome have taken drastic measures to firefight the epidemic, including scrapping public events and erecting police checkpoints around the 11 contaminated towns.
But despite the travel freeze from the virus-hit areas, where 50,000 citizens are in quarantine, cases scattered across Europe have been traced back to Italy.
Of the 13 new patients announced in the UK, seven had recently returned from Italy.
Boris Johnson has said there 'now seems little doubt that it will present a significant challenge' to the UK in the coming days and weeks.
Criticism mounted last week over his decision to delegate management of the crisis to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Even ex-Tory chancellor George Osborne said the Government had to 'get a grip'.
Yesterday the Prime Minister broke cover, donning a yellow biohazard suit to visit Public Health England's laboratory in Colindale, north-west London.
It is one of a number of labs where tests for the virus are carried out.
He then went to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead to meet staff who are treating patients with the illness.
Speaking ahead of today's emergency meeting, Mr Johnson said: 'The number of coronavirus cases around the world is rising every day – and the UK is no exception.
'There now seems little doubt that it will present a significant challenge for our country.
'But we are well prepared, and the Government and the NHS will stop at nothing to fight this virus. This battle plan lays out in detail the measures we could use – if and when they are needed.'
Tomorrow's proposals will set out how the Government will respond if and when the coronavirus reaches epidemic proportions.
Mr Johnson yesterday said he wanted to see schools stay open for as long as possible, and emergency laws will be published this week to allow class sizes to increase if teachers are off sick.
But tomorrow's blueprint is likely to include provisions for school closures if the situation worsens.
Mass gatherings, such as at sports events and concerts, could also be banned temporarily and Mr Hancock said draconian measures, such as sealing off whole cities, had not been ruled out.
Privately, officials say that ministers could have to address 'very difficult' issues.
These could include deciding whether to allow the virus to take its course quickly or try to delay its spread. The first option would likely result in a higher peak in the number of cases, but would allow the economic and social disruption to pass more quickly.
Downing Street has insisted that Mr Johnson has remained in overall charge of the response since the virus first emerged in January. No 10 said there had been weekly Cobra meetings.
Yesterday the Prime Minister broke cover, donning a yellow biohazard suit to visit Public Health England's laboratory in Colindale, north-west London
Mr Johnson yesterday said he wanted to see schools stay open for as long as possible, and emergency laws will be published this week to allow class sizes to increase if teachers are off sick
Downing Street has insisted that Mr Johnson (pictured yesterday in Colindale) has remained in overall charge of the response since the virus first emerged in January. No 10 said there had been weekly Cobra meetings
Although none was attended by the Prime Minister, he is said to have been updated regularly. Mr Johnson held a high-level meeting of ministers and officials on Friday night.
Sources said the Prime Minister had visited NHS staff who may soon be on the frontline.
He visited Kettering General Hospital in Northamptonshire last week to see its new coronavirus 'pod' where people can come to be checked.
Meanwhile, health chiefs in the Canary Islands have said British tourists trapped in a Tenerife hotel hit by coronavirus can leave as long as they are well and the Government can guarantee continuing care.
Hopes of an early end to their holiday hell were first raised last week when talks began with embassies and consulates about a possible repatriation.
But the Foreign Office poured cold water on the idea by insisting there were no plans to bring trapped tourists back from the H10 Costa Adeje Palace.
That left more than 100 Britons facing an end date on their lockdown of March 9.
Find the hidden virus carriers: Race is on to track down coronavirus sufferers who may NOT know they are infected as 13 new cases are recorded in UK in one day and Boris Johnson warns it poses 'significant challenge'
By Ben Spencer and Glen Keogh and Jim Norton for the Daily Mail
Health officials are desperately trying to find coronavirus carriers unwittingly spreading the deadly illness.
They fear the individuals have only mild symptoms and do not realise they are infected. The crisis deepened yesterday when 13 new cases were reported – bringing the number in the UK to 36.
The total has almost tripled in four days with the virus now reaching all corners of the British Isles.
But the South East is on the front line with experts trying to identify the sources of outbreaks in Essex, Surrey and West Sussex.
Five of the latest victims caught coronavirus within the UK – and not abroad – meaning it may already be too late to head off an epidemic.