Department of Health and Social Care perm sec Sir Chris Wormald, health secretary Matt Hancock and chief medical officer for England Chris Whitty arrive in Downing Street for COBRA meeting Photo PA
Ministers have unveiled their “battle plan” for a potential COVID-19 pandemic - including calling up newly-retired doctors to help in treatment if the outbreak spreads
Under the plan that was agreed at a COBRA meeting this morning, a number of counter-measures against the spread of the virus have been agreed. As well as the emergency registration of health professionals who have recently retired to tackle NHS staff shortages, other measures being considered include encouraging home working and relaxing pupil-teacher ratios in schools and the possible cancellation of major sporting events.
Departments will also be designated a ministerial virus lead to coordinate responses, while a central Cabinet Office war room will be convened to share information/
Ahead of the meeting, prime minister Boris Johnson said the disease "will present a significant challenge" for the UK, as the number of confirmed cases continues to rise.
Thirteen new cases were confirmed on Sunday - including the first in Scotland - taking the UK total to 36.
“The number of coronavirus cases around the world is rising every day - and the UK is no exception,” the prime minister said.
"There now seems little doubt that it will present a significant challenge for our country. But we are well prepared, and the government and the NHS will stop at nothing to fight this virus.
"This battle plan lays out in detail the measures we could use - if and when they are needed."
Meanwhile senior NHS officials have warned that hospitals will struggle if the outbreak worsens due to staff shortages and limited number of beds.
One NHS executive told the Observer: “About 17% of people who contract the virus need some sort of medical intervention.
“So if this properly catches hold you have a 17% increase in the number of people coming through the NHS’s door, and then everything falls over.”
Another said: “If you have a coronavirus outbreak it will be a nightmare.
“How will we create the extra capacity that we will need? All hospitals are already full. It will be really, really difficult if we get loads of people with this.”
The UK is currently in the “containment” case of tackling the virus, which involves isolating those affected and tracing those who have come in contact.
Health officials remain confident that this may be enough to prevent a pandemic occurring, and so far over 10,000 people have been tested for COVID-19.