Boris Johnson has called an emergency Cobra meeting on the coronavirus amid calls for the UK to be put on a "war footing” to deal with the outbreak.
The prime minister will chair the committee of ministers and officials on Monday in response to criticism of how the Government are dealing with COVID-19.
George Osborne, the former chancellor, said the public was “fearful” as the virus continued to spread around the world – and warned No.10 the public need to "know their leaders have got a grip”.
On Friday morning the number of confirmed cases rose after the first positive tests were recorded in Northern Ireland and Wales.
Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty also said two further patients in England have tested positive for COVID-19.
The virus was passed on in Iran and the patients have been transferred to specialist NHS infection centres at the Royal Free Hospital.
The total number of cases in England is now 17. Following confirmed cases in Northern Ireland and Wales, the total number of UK cases is 19.
The FTSE 100 opened down sharply amid fears the outbreak could damage the global economy, after the US Dow Jones index suffered its biggest one-day drop in its history on Thursday.
A Downing Street source said of the planned Corba meeting: "This is a response to the growing number of cases in Europe and need for PM to make sure everything that can be done is being done.”
It comes after Johnson made a surprise, off-camera visit to Kettering hospital on Thursday night.
He spent four hours with the night-shift team between 11pm and 3am, shadowing staff in accident & emergency, intensive care unit and paediatric departments.
And he spent time discussing preparations for dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak with senior doctors, amid concern the NHS may struggle to cope if the number of UK cases increases.
The visit came after Johnson faced criticism for not taking personal responsibility for dealing with the virus so far, with health secretary Matt Hancock co-ordinating the government’s response.
Osborne tweeted on Friday morning: “The British Government now needs to go onto a ‘war footing’ with the coronavirus: daily NHS press briefings, regular COBRA meetings chaired by the PM, Ministers on all major media shows.
“The public is fearful, wants information and needs to know their leaders have got a grip.”
The British Government now needs to go onto a ‘war footing’ with the coronavirus: daily NHS press briefings, regular COBRA meetings chaired by the PM, Ministers on all major media shows. The public is fearful, wants information and needs to know their leaders have got a grip.
— George Osborne (@George_Osborne) February 28, 2020