Government response to coronavirus to enter 'delay' phase as cabinet minister tested for bug

Move to be confirmed later today after PM chairs COBRA meeting

Photo: Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto/PA Images

By Kevin Schofield

12 Mar 2020

The government will step up its response to the coronavirus on Thursday – as it emerged a cabinet minister has been tested for COVID-19

A meeting of the emergency Cobra committee, to be chaired by Boris Johnson, is expected to confirm that attempts to contain the spread of the disease has failed.

That means attempts to tackle the outbreak will officially move from the "containment" to "delay" phase, in which efforts will focus on trying to push the peak of the crisis into the summer, when there will be less pressure on the NHS.


It could also mean that the government will announce schools closures, tell people to work from home and order the cancellation of large gatherings such as sporting events in a bid to limit the spread of the virus.

The move comes as it emerged that an unnamed cabinet minister is waiting to find out if he has contracted the virus after being tested by medics.

Meanwhile, health secretary Matt Hancock – who earlier chaired another Cobra meeting yesterday – confirmed in the House of Commons that the number of deaths from the virus in the UK had risen to eight.

And Public Health England confirmed that 460 people had been diagnosed across Britain following the largest increase in a single day.

Hancock also defended the government's approach to tackling the outbreak, after some criticised ministers' reluctance to follow the likes of Italy and China in turning large parts of their countries into no-go zones.

He said: "Evidence of past epidemics shows that people do tire of these sorts of social distancing measures, so if you start them too early they lose their effect."

The health secretary added: "I've seen some of the noises off. I commend everyone to base the decisions and judgments they’re making on science, rather than politics."

Yesterday, chancellor Rishi Sunak had used his first Budget to announce a £30bn package of measures to help workers, businesses and benefit claimants cope with the economic downturn caused by the outbreak, including £12bn worth of measures specifically related to tackling the outbreak.

He said: "The British people may be worried, but they are not daunted. We will protect our country and our people. We will rise to this challenge."

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