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Death of fourth patient with coronavirus as ministers consider next moves

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government would ‘act at the right time’ to delay the spread of Covid-19.

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Spectators wearing masks to protect against coronavirus outside the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey, London on Commonwealth Day. The service is the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s final official engagement before they quit royal life.

Spectators wearing masks to protect against coronavirus outside the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey, London on Commonwealth Day. The service is the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s final official engagement before they quit royal life.

Spectators wearing masks to protect against coronavirus outside the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey, London on Commonwealth Day. The service is the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s final official engagement before they quit royal life.

Medical experts and the Government are still attempting to contain the spread of coronavirus as the number of cases in the UK rose to more than 300 and the death toll reached four.

As of 9am on Monday, 319 people have tested positive for Covid-19, up from 273 at the same point on Sunday, the Department of Health said.

Public Health England (PHE) will continue to trace close contacts of anybody diagnosed with Covid-19 in the containment phase, advising them to self-isolate at home to delay the spread of the virus.

The Government’s action plan for the disease has three separate stages – contain, delay and mitigate – alongside a research programme.

Moving to the next stage, an attempt to delay the spread of the outbreak, would mean that social distancing measures – such as restricting public gatherings and more widespread advice to stay at home – could be brought in.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

In the Commons, Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the death of a fourth patient with the disease and said that any further measures that could be introduced to tackle the spread of Covid-19 would be guided by scientific advice.

He said: “We continue to work to contain the virus, but we’re also taking action to delay its impact, to fund research and to mitigate its consequences.

“Throughout our approach is guided by the science. That is the bedrock on which we base all our decisions.

Coronavirus
Health Secretary Matt Hancock (right) and Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty (left) arrive at the Cabinet Office, Whitehall, London, for a meeting of the Government’s emergency committee Cobra to discuss coronavirus Yui Mok/PA)

“Our plan sets out what we are prepared to do and we’ll make the right choices of which action to pursue at the right moment.

“The scientific advice is clear – acting too early creates its own risks, so we will do what is right to keep people safe.

“Guided by the science we’ll act at the right time and we’ll be clear and open about our actions and the reasons for them.”

Boris Johnson chaired a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee on Monday morning and the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We remain in the contain phase, but it is now accepted that this virus is going to spread in a significant way and that’s why officials have been working at speed on further steps we can take to delay the spread of the virus.”

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said the latest patient with Covid-19 to die was in their 70s with underlying health conditions and was being treated at the Royal Wolverhampton Hospital.

“It appears the virus was acquired in the UK and full contact tracing has begun,” Prof Whitty said.

The Government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) is expected to meet on Tuesday, which could provide further information for the Government on when to introduce restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.

In other developments:

– On another bleak day for the global markets, trading was halted on the New York Stock Exchange for 15 minutes after the S&P 500 index fell 7% due to a collapse in the oil price and fears over Covid-19

– Transport for London confirmed a staff member had tested positive

– A pupil at Rugby Free Secondary School in Warwickshire is self-isolating at home after being diagnosed with Covid-19

– The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) postponed its annual conference

– The House of Commons and House of Lords’ ruling bodies said there were “no plans to suspend Parliament” but the response to the outbreak was under constant review

– University Hospital Southampton closed its surgical high-dependency unit to new admissions after a staff member tested positive

– Public Health England (PHE) will roll out enhanced monitoring of flights from all parts of Italy from Wednesday

– The France vs Ireland Six Nations rugby match due to be held in Paris on Saturday was postponed on the advice of national authorities

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said cancelling sports events and shutting museums and galleries due to coronavirus would be “premature”.

Following a meeting with ministers about the impact of the crisis on sports events, Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney said there was “no medical rationale” for cancelling matches or playing them behind closed doors as things stood but it was a “moving situation”.

Steve Elworthy, director of special projects at the England and Wales Cricket Board, said things remained “business as usual”.

At the weekend, Italy imposed restrictions on around 16 million people for nearly a month in a bid to stop the spread of the disease there.

Italy has the highest number of confirmed cases outside China at 7,375, and its death toll stands at 366.

France, where more than 1,100 cases have been recorded and 19 people have died, announced a ban on events of more than 1,000 people.

Downing Street defended its response in comparison with more drastic action being taken elsewhere in Europe.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: “It’s not for me to speak on behalf of other countries. The guiding principle for the Prime Minister is that he will take the guidance of his medical and scientific advisers.”

The Foreign Office said it is in contact with around 142 British nationals on the Grand Princess cruise ship, which is due to start disembarkation of guests at the Port of Oakland, California, on Monday.

The FCO said it was “working intensively” with US authorities to arrange a flight for UK citizens who are then likely to be taken into quarantine.

PA