Boris Johnson vows he will 'stop at nothing' to combat Coronavirus

Boris Johnson today warned that coronavirus is on the verge of 'significant' escalation in the UK - as he urged people to stay calm and keep washing their hands.

The government is bracing Britons for the virus to escalate further after the number of cases in this country hit 36, including the first in Scotland.  

The PM finally waded in to take personal charge of the response by chairing a Cobra emergency committee meeting this morning. 

Speaking after the session, which agreed a new 'battle plan' against Covid-19 to be published tomorrow, Mr Johnson said coronavirus was 'likely to become more significant for this country in the course of the next days and weeks'.

But he also insisted that the public should try to go about 'business as usual', suggesting they wash their hands frequently while singing Happy Birthday twice. 

'We have been making every preparation for that. This country is very well prepared,' he said.

'We have also agreed a plan so that as and when if and when it starts to spread… we are in a position to take the steps that will be necessary… to contain the spread of the disease as far as we can and also protect the vulnerable.'

He added: 'Don't forget it is still the case that the single most useful thing we can all do is to wash our hands - two times Happy Birthday, hot water and soap.

'Other than that though I wish to stress that people consider that they should, as far as possible, go about business as usual.' 

Scotland has declared its first case, while 12 new patients were diagnosed in England on Sunday, when the Health Secretary admitted it was 'inevitable' coronavirus would continue to spread.

Matt Hancock has refused to rule out following China's lead in shutting down cities if the Covid-19 outbreak escalates.

Meanwhile, Trade Secretary Liz Truss suggested the government plans to appoint a single minister to coordinate the UK action. However, No10 refused to confirm whether that would happen.

Speaking after the Cobra meeting today, Boris Johnson said coronavirus was ‘likely to become more significant over the next days and weeks’

Speaking after the Cobra meeting today, Boris Johnson said coronavirus was 'likely to become more significant over the next days and weeks'

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)

Matt Hancock

Dominic Cummings

Health Secretary Matt Hancock and No10 strategy chief Dominic Cummings were in Downing Street for the Cobra meeting this morning  

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove was also in Downing Street today for the meeting

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove was also in Downing Street today for the meeting

It comes as the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU had raised its coronavirus risk level from 'moderate' to 'high' for those in the European Union.

Professor Paul Cosford, emeritus medical director of Public Health England, said the situation in the UK was set to become more challenging. 

Asked on BBC Breakfast if widespread infection was inevitable, Prof Cosford said: 'I wouldn't say anything is inevitable but it is now highly likely.'

Going on to speak on ITV's Good Morning Britain, Prof Cosford explained that 'the extent of infection we are seeing in other countries suggests it is likely that we will see more widespread infection in the UK'.

He said: 'We should expect at times that might be quite challenging for us, it is therefore very important that we do everything we can to reduce the spread of infection.

'At the moment, the vast majority of cases we see in the UK are still linked to countries where there is more widespread infection, either in or South East Asia.

'It is true to say there is a small number now where it is much more difficult to find that link, and that is leading us to think we may well see more widespread infection in the UK fairly soon.

'It could happen in the next few days or it could take a little longer.' 

Mr Johnson has faced criticism for waiting until today to chair a meeting on the deadly virus.

PM tells Britons: Wash your hands while singing Happy Birthday and carry on as usual 

Boris Johnson said today that coronavirus is 'likely to become more significant over the next days and weeks'. 

But he also insisted that the public should try to go about 'business as usual' - remembering to wash their hands frequently while singing Happy Birthday twice. 

'We have been making every preparation for that. This country is very well prepared,' he said.

'We have also agreed a plan so that as and when if and when it starts to spread… we are in a position to take the steps that will be necessary… to contain the spread of the disease as far as we can and also protect the vulnerable.'

He added: 'Don't forget it is still the case that the single most useful thing we can all do is to wash our hands - two times Happy Birthday, hot water and soap.

'Other than that though I wish to stress that people consider that they should, as far as possible, go about business as usual.' 

 

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: 'The UK-wide action plan in response to Coronavirus was agreed and that will be published tomorrow.

'That was agreed by all four parts of the UK and they will be working closely together, ensuring we have the best possibly response to the outbreak.'

The plan will 'set out the steps we have already taken, things we could potentially consider in the event this outbreak were to progress further in the UK and also to set out the steps the public can take to contain the virus'. 

The meeting was attended by senior ministers, as well as chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, as they ratify the Government's proposed countermeasures.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon dialed in, as well as Mark Drakesford from Wales and Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neil from Northern Ireland. 

However, London mayor Sadiq Khan was not involved because it was to discuss a 'national response'. 

It is understood the government wants emergency powers legislation in place by the end of the month, in case they are needed.  

Three of the latest cases are family members of a man from Surrey who tested positive on Friday. He had no recent travel history and is the first person to contract Covid-19 within the UK.

All four are adults, including one more from Surrey and two from West Sussex.

Prof Whitty said another new patient, from Essex, had not recently travelled to an infected area.

He added investigations were ongoing as to whether the patient had contracted it 'directly or indirectly' from someone who had recently travelled abroad.

Another case is a person from Bury, Greater Manchester, who was infected in and has now been taken to a specialist NHS infection centre.

Three cases were confirmed in West Yorkshire, including two Leeds residents - who became infected in Iran - while one is from Bradford who had been in .

Two of the new patients are from Hertfordshire, including a clinician at the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre, which is part of East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust.

A statement from the trust said: 'All individuals who were in contact with the clinician have been identified and the appropriate measures taken.

'The risk to patients and staff at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre is very low and we are working with individual patients to appropriately manage their care.'

Mr Hancock (centre) arrived today accompanied by Department of Health permanent secretary Chris Wormald (left) and Professor Chris Whitty (right)

Mr Hancock (centre) arrived today accompanied by Department of Health permanent secretary Chris Wormald (left) and Professor Chris Whitty (right) 

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

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

Priti Patel arrives at the Home Office this morning. She could be at the Cobra meeting later

Priti Patel arrives at the Home Office this morning. She could be at the Cobra meeting later

One other case is from London and the other is from Gloucestershire and linked to a member of staff at a Tetbury school in the Cotswolds, who was identified on Saturday.

Debra Lapthorne, centre director for Public Health England (PHE) South West, said: 'The two cases are linked and both became infected whilst in Northern .

'Staff from PHE have continued to support St Mary's Primary School, Tetbury, where one of the cases works.'

In a letter to parents, headteacher Mrs Jo Woolley said that while it was not necessary to close the school from a health perspective, it will close until at least Wednesday due to 'operational difficulties' with staff members.

A staff member at an infant school in Berkshire was confirmed to have tested positive on Saturday.

In an email, Willow Bank Infant School headteacher Michelle Masters urged parents to 'remain calm and follow the recommended hygiene procedures'.

The Department of Health and Social Care announced yesterday that every department will have a ministerial lead on the virus, and a cross-Whitehall 'war room' is being set up to roll out an enhanced public information campaign.

Emergency powers designed to restrict Covid-19 if it becomes endemic, due to be announced this week, would only be 'temporary', said Mr Hancock.

He confirmed that 'population distancing measures', such as banning public gatherings and cancelling football matches, could be considered by the Government, while closing schools may be 'necessary'.

The Foreign Office confirmed that non-essential staff, as well as dependants, are to be pulled out of the British Embassy in Tehran.

The Republic of Ireland reported its first case on Saturday, with a secondary school to be closed for 14 days after authorities identified its pupils and teachers as having been in contact with the male patient.

Globally, the number of people killed worldwide by the virus exceeds 3,000 and there have been almost 90,000 confirmed cases.

While most patients only have mild symptoms, Covid-19 appears to be much more deadly than seasonal flu.

In , which has the most cases in Europe, the number of infections doubled in 48 hours over the weekend.

now has 1,694 confirmed cases and has seen 34 deaths.

Coronavirus explained: What are the chances I will die? How do I avoid it? Is it all a big fuss over nothing? World experts answer your questions 

Hundreds of flights have been cancelled. Tourists are stranded, quarantined in their hotels. World stock markets are in freefall, and there are reports of desperate shoppers stockpiling crates of supplies – from nappies to medicines to toilet roll.

Sales of surgical spirit have surged and Boots announced it has sold out of anti-bacterial hand gel. There's even talk of cancelling – not just postponing – the Olympics.

It's hard not to feel a sense of impending doom when reading about the coronavirus infection, known as Covid-19, sweeping the globe. At the time of writing, it has killed more than 2,900 and infected in excess of 85,000 people in 47 countries.

A woman pictured with a medical mask covering her face. The only reason to wear a mask in public is if you think you are infected – to protect others (file photo)

A woman pictured with a medical mask covering her face. The only reason to wear a mask in public is if you think you are infected – to protect others (file photo)

The majority of infections and deaths are in the Hubei province of China, where the virus emerged. But in , nearly 5,000 miles from the source, cases have surged, forcing some northern towns – home to 55,000 people – into lockdown.

Twelve Italians have died so far, and on Friday the first British fatality, a passenger aboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner quarantined in Japan, was reported.

In the UK, of the nearly 8,000 who have been tested for the virus, 20 have been diagnosed, and there have been no deaths.

Plans are in place to close schools, disrupt our public transport system and postpone major sports events should the situation change. But for now, experts are urging the public to prepare and take measures to help prevent the spread of illness.

The world wants to know what to do about it and so – from risks to the elderly or ill and how to self-quarantine, to what ordinary people can do to protect themselves – we asked some of the world's leading experts for answers to the big coronavirus questions.

How do you catch this virus?

Covid-19 seems to spread much like flu, through coughs and sneezes. Once contracted, it lives and replicates in the tissues that line the airways. Secretions from these tissues – mucus and saliva – therefore also contain the virus. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or simply talks, tiny droplets of moisture are expelled into the air, carrying the virus out of the body. Unless you are directly in the firing line, you should be safe. Droplets travel only up to 7ft.

Struggling: Pope Francis wipes his nose as he takes part in the penitential procession on Ash Wednesday in Rome, Italy, on February 26. He said yesterday he was only suffering from a cold

Struggling: Pope Francis wipes his nose as he takes part in the penitential procession on in , , on February 26. He said yesterday he was only suffering from a cold

But another risk comes when people cover their cough or sneeze with their hand and then touch something other people touch, such as a door knob or tap. Touch a contaminated surface, then touch your own mouth or nose, and the virus can be transmitted.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the coronavirus can live on surfaces for several days.

Günter Kampf of the University of Greifswald in Germany says such viruses can be killed by disinfectants such as alcohol or bleach – but many things we touch every day on transport or in public buildings are not frequently disinfected.

If 14 per cent of those infected develop a severe disease and five per cent of them are critically ill, it could be a 'massive threat' according to an interview Dr Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, gave The Times. 

'It doesn't present like a common cold and the symptoms can range from completely unapparent to serious disease to going into intensive care. 

'From what we have learnt so far, it seems that virus shedding - the transmission stage from infected persons - is going on relatively early during the course of infection.

'Tests can quite often become negative but then sometimes go positive again,' he said.

According to Alistair Miles, head of epidemiological informatics, Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics, we should stop touching our faces. 

He told The Times: 'Stop touching your face. Especially stop touching your eyes, nose or mouth. 

'Wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching food. 

'While a mask seems like a good idea, there isn't a lot of good evidence that it can reliably prevent infection when worn by the public. But they are useful to put on a sick person to reduce their spreading of the virus.'  

He said: 'It looks unlikely this will be over quickly. It may be with us into next year and might eventually become a seasonal infection, returning each winter.' 

Could I die if I get it?

It depends to some extent on how old you are. Covid-19 barely even causes symptoms in children, even babies, and in China is not known to have caused any deaths in under-tens. The main concern with children is that if they catch the virus they may pass it on to older at-risk individuals. This is why some headteachers have chosen to close schools, but this is not yet official policy.

According to the most recent data from the China Centre for Disease Control, death rates are 0.2 to 0.4 per cent between the ages of ten and 50, but then start climbing.

Deep cleaning: A worker in a protective suit disinfects a tram car in Pyongyang, North Korea, on February 26. Symptoms of Covid-19 are a fever, a cough or trouble breathing

Deep cleaning: A worker in a protective suit disinfects a tram car in Pyongyang, North Korea, on February 26. Symptoms of Covid-19 are a fever, a cough or trouble breathing 

You have a 1.3 per cent chance of dying from it in your 50s, a 3.6 per cent risk in your 60s, an eight per cent risk in your 70s, and a 14.8 per cent risk in your 80s.

Risk climbs with age because older people more often have other diseases, such as cancer or conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or pulmonary disease, which

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