Coronavirus: Boris Johnson to hold emergency Cobra meeting

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The culture secretary says the current advice is that there is no reason to cancel large events

The prime minister will chair an emergency Cobra meeting later to decide whether to bring in measures to delay the spread of coronavirus in the UK.

The meeting is expected to consider whether “social distancing” measures should be phased in.

These could include banning of big events, closing schools and encouraging home working.

It comes after a man in his 60s became the UK’s third death linked to the Covid-19 virus.

Ministers will also meet with sports bodies and UK supermarkets to discuss their response to the outbreak.

On Sunday, the number of confirmed cases in the UK rose to 278, from 209 on Saturday – the biggest rise so far.

The UK is currently in the first phase – “containment” – of the government’s four-part plan to tackle the spread of coronavirus.

The Cobra meeting is expected to consider whether the UK should officially move into the “delay” phase.

The government has previously said “social distancing” measures to slow the spread of the virus could include a ban on sporting events and other large gatherings, and encouraging people to work from home rather than use crowded trains and buses.

Such a step would require agreement from chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, who are due to be at the meeting.

But Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden told BBC Breakfast that he and the prime minister watched the England versus Wales Six Nations match at Twickenham on Saturday, and the current medical advice was that there was no reason to avoid or cancel sports events.

He said: “We are guided by the facts and we are guided by the evidence. At the moment the advice is clear from the chief medical officer: there isn’t a need to cancel such events.”

Sports governing bodies will meet ministers to discuss the possibility of staging events behind closed doors in future, however.

Environment Secretary George Eustice will also discuss contingency plans with supermarket chief executives, including proposals on how to support vulnerable groups who may have to self-isolate.

Flights cancelled

The latest person to die – a man in his 60s with significant underlying health problems – had recently returned from Italy, Public Health England said on Sunday.

The man was being treated at the specialist infectious diseases unit in North Manchester General Hospital after testing positive for coronavirus.

Prof Whitty said health officials were tracing people who may have been in contact with the man while he was carrying the virus.

‘The next stage of the coronavirus fight’

It seems certain we will move to the next stage of the fight against coronavirus, probably this week.

That will involve going from trying to contain the spread of the virus to accepting there is going to be community transmission and looking at ways to slow its spread.

There are plenty of drastic options on the table from closing schools to banning public gatherings.

But health officials are unlikely to recommend these immediately. Instead, it will be a more gradual, phased approach.

That could involve people being asked to consider ways we can all reduce our social contact. It could be working from home, staggering our commute or cutting back on socialising.

The government’s clear message will be that we all have a role to play in tackling this – as individuals, as employers and as communities.

The Foreign Office has warned Britons to avoid large parts of northern Italy under a coronavirus quarantine, unless their journey is essential.

Those travelling from locked-down areas have also been advised to self-isolate if they returned to the UK in the last 14 days – even if they have shown no symptoms.

Italy now has the highest number of confirmed cases outside China at 7,375, and its death toll rose from 133 on Sunday to 366.

British nationals are still able to depart Italy without restriction, but some airlines have cancelled flights to and from affected areas.

Mr Dowden, the culture secretary, told BBC Radio 5 Live “enhanced measures” were in place to screen passengers from Italy – but the only one he identified was training airline staff to spot the symptoms of Covid-19.

The Foreign Office also said it is “working intensively” to arrange a flight home for 140 Britons on board the Grand Princess cruise ship, which is quarantined off the coast of California after 21 people tested positive for the coronavirus.

Neil Hanlon, from Bridgwater in Somerset, told BBC Breakfast that food on board has become “very, very limited” and he was “gutted” that it may take until later in the week until he and his wife Victoria can fly home.

Amid concerns that fake news about the coronavirus is causing confusion, a specialist unit to combat disinformation has been set up.

Teams from across Whitehall have been brought together to identify and respond to disinformation in a bid to limit its spread.

‘Fantastic job’

NHS 111 staff are doing a “fantastic job” in managing increased call volumes over the outbreak, Prof Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, told BBC News.

He said a new online coronavirus service has been used by more than one million people since its launch last week.

Prof Powis said the service should be the “first point of access” and was capable of determining whether the user should have a virus test.

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Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust

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The third coronavirus patient to die in the UK was a man in his 60s

As of Sunday, 23,513 people had been tested across the UK, with 273 cases proving positive for the virus.

And on Sunday evening, five more cases in Northern Ireland were announced, bringing the total in the country to 12 and 278 in the UK.

In Wales two more people have tested positive for the coronavirus, taking the total number there to four.

In other developments:

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