Coronavirus: Mass gatherings could be banned in UK from next week

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Mass gatherings could be banned in the UK from as early as next weekend amid the outbreak of coronavirus.

A government source said ministers are drawing up plans for the move – to ease pressure on emergency services.

Scores of major sporting and cultural events have already been cancelled across the country in response to the pandemic.

In total, 11 people have died with the virus in the UK, while the number of confirmed cases rose to 798 on Friday.

It is understood that ministers are working with the government’s chief scientific adviser and chief medical adviser on plans to stop various types of public events.

The source said: “There are many complex considerations to make all these measures as effective as possible.

“We will make the right decisions at the right time based on the best scientific evidence.”

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had earlier questioned the government’s decision to hold off cancelling large gatherings, describing the decision as “concerning”.

Acting Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey told BBC Newsnight that the government’s “rapid change” in tactic following the cancellation of sporting events suggests it is “playing catch-up with the rest of British society”.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth welcomed the move in an interview on the programme, but urged the government to be “clear” about its plans.

“If that means publishing the scientific modelling so that all the experts can analyse it and peer review it and stress test it, if that maintains public confidence, that’s an important step,” the Labour MP said.

The government’s action plan – published last week – did raise the possibility of reducing the number of large-scale gatherings.

However, the most recent tactics announced on Thursday advised people to self-isolate for seven days if they have a cough or fever.

The UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance previously said that shutting down mass events would not have a “big effect” on transmission rates, but he did not rule out such a move going forward.

Whitehall sources said the government’s approach has not changed but there are concerns about the burden that large events might put on health services and the police.

It is thought a ban could start to take effect as early as next weekend, although exact timescales are not clear.

Emergency legislation – including compensation for organisations affected by a temporary ban on big events – is due to be published next week.

Many sports bodies did not wait for a government directive and have already suspended competitions amid the virus outbreak.

Football authorities have announced the suspension of top-flight matches until early April, while Saturday’s Wales v Scotland Six Nations rugby match was suspended and England’s cricket tour of Sri Lanka was called off.

Meanwhile, the Scottish government has already advised that gatherings of more than 500 people should be cancelled from next week.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Friday that local and mayoral elections in May were being postponed for a year until May 2021.

And new restrictions are being imposed on visitor access to Parliament, while overseas travel by MPs and peers is being strongly discouraged.

In other developments:

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