Coronavirus: Prime minister outlines UK’s battle plan

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty, prime minister Boris Johnson and chief scientific advisor Sir Pa

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty, prime minister Boris Johnson and chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance speaking during a press conference on the government's coronavirus action plan, at 10 Downing Street, London. Photo: PA Wire - Credit: PA

School closures and home working are among measures proposed by the government to tackle the spread of coronavirus, as it warns an outbreak could lead to one fifth of workers being absent.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has this morning released a 27-page document setting out the UK-wide response to the virus outbreak.

The government is following a four-step approach - contain, delay, mitigate and research - as the number of the people in the UK who have tested positive reaches 39.

Officials hope to delay the peak of the virus until the warmer spring and summer months when health services are less busy.

One point in the plan says if the virus takes hold, social distancing strategies could include school closures, encouraging greater home working, reducing the number of large scale gatherings and closing other educational settings.

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The prime minister is currently hosting a press conference in Downing Street to launch the plan, alongside chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

The prime minister said: "We are taking each step as it comes."

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The document said due to the Covid-19 strain being new, and people having a lack of immunity, it has the potential to "spread extensively".

The report said while everyone is susceptible to catching the disease, the most at risk are the vulnerable and elderly.

The document also indicated that if emergency services such as the police were to lose "significant staff" numbers to illness, the government would "concentrate on responding to serious crimes and maintaining public order".

Hospital worker shifts could be altered and leavers or retirees called "back to duty". The UK has stockpiles of medicines for the NHS, plus protective clothing and equipment for medical staff, it said.

The battle plan also said in a "stretching scenario", it is possible that up to one fifth of employees may be absent from work during peak weeks.

The document said: "Everyone will face increased pressures at work, as well as potentially their own illness and caring responsibilities."

Supporting staff welfare "will be critical" for businesses.

- The public will be asked to accept that "the advice for managing Covid-19 for most people will be self-isolation at home and simple over the counter medicines".

Further points outlined included:

- During the mitigation phase, when the virus is much more widespread, "pressures on services and wider society may become significant and clearly noticeable".

- The Ministry of Defence will provide support as needed, including to essential services.

- There will be increased government communication with parliament, the public and the media if the virus becomes more widespread

The prime minister also called for the public to continue washing their hands regularly and ensure vaccines are up to date.

Anyone planning on travelling is told to check with the foreign office and understand the pressures the health service is under.

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