Coronavirus: Downing Street to give daily update on fight against outbreak

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The prime minister will host Monday’s press conference with UK chief medical adviser, Prof Chris Whitty (L) and and Sir Patrick Vallance (R), the UK’s chief scientific adviser

The government is to hold daily televised press conferences to update the public on the fight against coronavirus, Downing Street has said.

From Monday, Boris Johnson or a senior minister will address the media to ensure people are informed about how to protect themselves.

It follows criticism of No 10 for an apparent lack of transparency over its plans to stem the spread of the virus.

A total of 35 people have died in the UK after contracting Covid-19.

It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed that every Briton over the age of 70 will be told “within the coming weeks” to stay at home for an extended period to protect themselves.

A Downing Street spokesperson said the government is “committed” to keeping the public informed about what it is doing to fight the spread of the virus, and will always be led by science to “bring forward the right responses at the right time”.

Mr Johnson will host the press conference on Monday, alongside Prof Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical adviser, and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

The PM or a senior minister will host each briefing, and answer media questions, while supported by a range of medical and scientific experts, No 10 said.

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Media captionLabour leader Jeremy Corbyn criticises the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic

His speech to the media is set to happen after he chairs an emergency Cobra meeting on Monday afternoon, when further decisions could be made on actions to stop the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The meeting will discuss the “next steps” on government plans to shield the elderly and vulnerable people from the virus, and whether mass gatherings should be banned.

The Department for Work and Pensions has also announced that, from Tuesday, face-to-face assessments for sickness and disability welfare payments will be suspended for three months in an effort to protect vulnerable claimants.

The suspension will apply to claimants of personal independence payments, employment and support allowance, some on Universal Credit and people on industrial injuries schemes. Those with appointments will be contacted to discuss alternative arrangements.

In a phone call on Monday, Mr Johnson will encourage leaders of the G7 nations – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States – to back the World Health Organization response, and provide funding and expertise to speed up the development of a vaccine.

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Media captionMatt Hancock: “Getting through this is going to be a national effort”

Meanwhile, Mr Hancock said details of emergency legislation giving the government more powers to deal with the outbreak will be shared on Tuesday.

He told the BBC that leading British manufacturers are being asked to help produce vital medical equipment, such as ventilators, to help with an expected surge in demand.

Hotels could also be converted into makeshift hospitals, while the government has begun negotiating with private healthcare providers to obtain thousands of extra beds in private hospitals.

The number of confirmed UK cases of the virus has reached 1,372, with 40,279 people tested, according to the latest Department of Health figures.

Almost all of the latest cases were in England, but 34 new cases were announced in Wales, 32 in Scotland and 11 in Northern Ireland.

People self-isolating with mild symptoms of the virus are no longer being tested.

The government says tests will primarily be given:

  • To all patients needing hospital treatment for pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) or a flu-like illness
  • Where an outbreak has occurred in a residential or care setting, for example long-term care facilities or prisons

In other key updates:

  • The government is to release social distancing advice for elderly people on Monday – but they will not yet be asked to self-isolate for long periods
  • The 14 patients whose deaths were announced on Sunday were aged between 59 and 94 and all had underlying health conditions, NHS England said.
  • Retired police officer Nick Matthews, 59, of Nailsea, near Bristol, was named as having died after contracting the virus. His wife Mary paid tribute to him on Facebook as her “soul mate” and “best friend”
  • The Old Vic has become the first well-known West End theatre to cancel performances because of Covid-19. It announced on Sunday it has pulled the last two weeks of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, starring Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe
  • The UK’s aviation industry may not survive the coronavirus pandemic without emergency financial support, airlines have warned, as they prepare to write to the prime minister
  • The Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel to Spain after the government there announced emergency restrictions
  • The same advice has been issued by the Foreign Office for the US, effective from Tuesday morning, after President Trump decided to extend a European travel ban to include the UK
  • The government is in talks with rail bosses to put emergency measures in place to deal with falling passenger numbers amid the coronavirus outbreak