The UK Government has announced its plans for containing the coronavirus outbreak, including calling back recently retired health professionals and advising people to work from home.
In a press conference yesterday (3 March), Prime Minister Boris Johnson released the government’s action plan to contain COVID-19, a strain of coronavirus that originated in a seafood market in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and has since spread to more than 50 countries around the world.
So far around 90,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus, mostly in China, with more than 3,000 deaths.
There have been 85 confirmed cases in the UK, but this is expected to rise significantly in the coming weeks – the total number of cases in the UK jumped by 34 today (4 March). England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty told the BBC that up to 80 per cent of the population could become infected by the virus, and that it was “likely” that the outbreak would become an epidemic.
The government’s ‘battle plan’ to face down the coronavirus takes a phased approach to dealing with the spread – Contain, Delay, Research, Mitigate – with actions to date including returning British nationals from affected areas overseas, screening new arrivals to the UK, ensuring stockpiles of important medicines and rapidly tracing and monitoring of close contacts of confirmed cases to prevent further spread.
Advice has also been given to the wider population to wash their hands more and to self-isolate if they begin to display symptoms, especially after having recently visited affected areas.
In the event that the coronavirus continues to spread, ‘population distancing strategies’ will be considered, such as school closures, encouraging people to work from home, and reducing large gatherings.
Such actions would cause severe disruption to the UK’s social and economic activity, with up to one fifth of the UK’s workforce potentially having to take sick leave, while staff shortages could lead to police investigations having to be pared back.
Mitigation plans are in place to support businesses and workers who experience cash flow difficulties – the government today announced that statutory sick pay would be available from the first day of absence rather than the fourth as part of emergency coronavirus legislation – while recently retired nurses and doctors may be called back to fill in staffing gaps.
Green Party Co-leader Jonathan Bartley commented on the government’s plans: “The government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak will require detailed and thorough scrutiny to ensure everything is being done to protect and care for the public.
“This will be a time of colossal change and the government has a duty of care to all those who will be adversely affected, including those who stand to lose out economically for example through increased bills or loss of income.
“As the number of cases escalates, Green councillors will be doing all they can to support their local communities and help them come together to look after the most vulnerable.
“In the Lambeth ward I represent, like Green councillors up and down the country, I will be working with colleagues to ensure the local authority is in a position to keep vital services running, as best they can. Government must also play its part in ensuring that local communities are empowered and supported to do so.”