Coronavirus: UK expected to move to ‘delay’ phase

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The government is set to announce that it is stepping up its response to the coronavirus later.

The UK is expected to switch to tactics aimed at delaying its spread, rather than containing the disease, at the government’s emergency Cobra committee.

It comes after the World Health Organization labelled the outbreak of the disease a pandemic.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump has suspended all travel to the US from Europe – excluding the UK – for 30 days.

The US president said the “strong but necessary restrictions” would come into effect on Friday.

Earlier, a cabinet minister was confirmed as being in self-isolation while awaiting the results of a test.

The minister, who the BBC is not naming, had come into contact with Conservative colleague Nadine Dorries, who has tested positive for the virus.

What is the government’s strategy?

The prime minister is expected to sign off plans to move from the “containment” phase of the outbreak to “delay” at the meeting.

The UK’s strategy on responding to the virus has three phases: Containment, delay, mitigation and – running alongside these – research.

Delay is where “social distancing” measures will be considered – which could include restrictions on public gatherings above a certain number of people, although this is not thought likely at this stage.

The move could also result in people who show even minor signs of respiratory tract infections or fever soon being told to self-isolate.

Self-isolating is the advice being given to people who have recently returned from affected countries or have been in close contact with a person who tested positive for the virus.

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The delay phase aims to lower the peak impact of the virus and push it away from the winter season – when pressures on the NHS are more acute because of issues including seasonal flu.

Delaying the outbreak’s impact could also buy time for the testing of drugs and development of vaccines and/or improved therapies or tests to help reduce the impact of the disease.

The Cobra committee last met on Monday, when it was decided the UK should remain in the containment phase.

On Wednesday, in his first Budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak pledged billions of pounds of investment to get the country through the coronavirus outbreak, as well as saying the NHS would get “whatever resources it needs”.

How have MPs been affected?

An unnamed cabinet minister was confirmed on Wednesday as having gone into self-isolation, along with health minister Edward Argar, after coming into contact with Ms Dorries.

Tory MP Nadine Dorries was diagnosed with the virus on Tuesday, along with a member of her staff.

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Health minister Nadine Dorries said she developed a cough last Friday

The cabinet minister is awaiting the results of a coronavirus test, while Mr Argar, a colleague of Ms Dorries, self-isolated on the advice of officials.

Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said there were no plans to suspend Parliament after the positive tests.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have cancelled their spring conference in York this weekend.

Sir Ed Davey, the acting leader, tweeted that although it was “disappointing”, it was the “right decision” for members and the country.

What’s the latest situation in the UK?

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK has now reached 460, after the biggest rise in a single day.

It comes as two more people with the virus died in the UK, bringing the total to eight.

One was in their 70s and had underlying health conditions in Dudley, while the other, in Nuneaton, was elderly and had a number of serious health conditions.

There are now 387 confirmed cases in England, 36 in Scotland, 18 in Northern Ireland and 19 in Wales. In all, 27,476 people have been tested so far.

In response to the World Health Organization labelling the outbreak of the disease a pandemic, the UK’s chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty tweeted that the UK “had been planning” for this situation.

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson told BBC Newsnight that alternative areas like operating theatres and recovery rooms could be adapted to help cope with increased hospital admissions.

He said: “The idea that we’ve got a fixed number of beds and capacity is not right.”

Self-isolation ‘frightening’

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Alison Cameron/LDRS

Alison Cameron, 53, is one of 15 people in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea to have been diagnosed with the disease.

She contacted NHS 111 after she began finding it difficult to breathe.

“I feel really unwell. I am currently in isolation. It is not pleasant,” she said, adding: “At the heart of it I feel like death on legs.”

She believes she contracted the virus after a chance meeting with someone who was subsequently diagnosed with it.

“It’s a horrible feeling not being able to go out and it is quite frightening,” she said. “I am more worried about my neighbours because they are quite vulnerable too.”

What is happening elsewhere?

US President Donald Trump announced sweeping new travel restrictions on Europe in a bid to combat the spread of the virus.

He said all travel from Europe would be suspended for the next 30 days, although the restrictions would not apply to the UK.

In Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said all shops would close except food stores and pharmacies in Europe’s toughest lockdown yet as virus deaths and cases continue to mount.

It has more than 12,000 confirmed cases and a death toll of 827.

The UK Foreign Office issued a travel update for British nationals in Italy, urging all remaining tourists to contact their airline operators and return back to the UK.

In other developments:

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