Ahead of a meeting of the government’s emergency committee Cobra on Monday, the prime minister admitted the virus “may very well be challenging in the weeks and months ahead”.
It comes after a further three patients in England tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the UK to 23. So far, more than 10,000 people have been tested for the virus, also known as Covid-19.
On Friday, Mr Johnson was urged to “get a grip” of the situation, as Labour described him a “part-time prime minister” for failing to show leadership and inform UK citizens of action being taken by the government.
Downing Street said the government’s pandemic preparation will now include a public awareness campaign, featuring posters and social media adverts highlighting the importance of hand-washing to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Next week the government and devolved administrations will publish a joint document that will outline the steps government will take to manage coronavirus if there is a sustained UK epidemic, No 10 added.
If the virus spreads, emergency measures could be introduced, such as the the registration of health professionals who have retired in order to relieve pressure on the NHS, and the relaxation of rules around staff and pupil ratios in schools.
Speaking on Saturday, the prime minister said: “Coronavirus may very well be challenging in he weeks and months ahead. But I have no doubt that with the help of the NHS and its incomparable staff this country will get through it – and beat it.”
The health secretary Matt Hancock added: “Public safety is our top priority. Our battle plan will ensure that as this escalates every part of the government is working together to share the responsibility of tackling the health, economic and social impacts of Covid-19.
“The government and the NHS are working 24/7 to fight this virus, but cannot do this alone. Every single person has a role to play in helping to manage the spread of the virus — whether that’s washing your hands more often, catching your sneezes, and following clinical advice by calling NHS 111, not going to A&E, if you develop symptoms.”
More than 85,000 people worldwide have been infected with coronavirus. Most of the 2,850 deaths have been in China, where the outbreak began last year.
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