UK coronavirus cases rise to 115 as country moves towards 'delay phase'

There are now 115 confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK as the country moves to the "delay phase."

England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, told MPs the response to coronavirus was already moving into its second "delay" phase, rather than seeking to simply "contain" the disease.

Downing Street has said it is "highly likely" that the coronavirus will spread in a "significant way" and officials are accelerating preparations to enter the delay phase to deal with the outbreak.

Overall, current figures show 105 cases in England, six in Scotland, one in Wales and three in Northern Ireland.

The government advice is to wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. Credit: PA

Prof Whitty warned critical care beds in the NHS could come under intense pressure during a coronavirus epidemic.

He said people needing oxygen would stretch the health service and some "things may be considerably less well done" during the peak of an epidemic.

He said half of all coronavirus cases in the UK are most likely to occur in just a three-week period, with 95% of them over a nine-week period.

In a worst-case scenario, "the ratio of doctors to patients and nurses to patients would inevitably go down very sharply", but he said steps could possibly be taken to mitigate that.

  • Chris Whitty said there are several cases where PHE is unable to identify where the disease has originated from

"We have moved from a situation where we are mainly in contain, with some delay built in, to we are now mainly delay," he said, although elements of the contain process were remaining in place," Professor Whitty added.

The Government's battle plan says delay phase measures could include school closures, greater home working and reducing large-scale gatherings to "slow the spread of the disease."

Jeremy Hunt, who chairs the Health and Social Care Committee, tells ITV News' Science Editor, Tom Clarke the infection levels could rise drastically.

Mr Hunt said: "We are having to get our heads around the possibility that we will have infection levels similar to Hubei province in China."

He added "an active amount of thinking going on in Whitehall about schools and whether they should be closed".

The latest rise in cases comes as England's Six Nations game against Italy in Rome on March 14 has been postponed.

Organisers took the decision to call off the match because of the spread of the virus, instead of playing the game behind closed doors.

However Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there was no "clinical benefit" to cancelling events.

He said: "There is no material clinical benefit, epidemiologic benefit to cancelling events, so long as people undertake the public health measures that I'm sure you'll have heard of. Wash your hands and if you have a cough or a sneeze, catch it."

It is the second Six Nations match to be called off in the wake of the outbreak, after this weekend's rugby match between Ireland and Italy was postponed.

The England v Italy was scheduled to take place on March 14 in Rome. Credit: PA

The competition watchdog has warned retailers and traders they could be prosecuted for trying to "exploit" the coronavirus outbreak by selling protective products at inflated prices, adding it would consider asking the Government to introduce price controls if needed.

In France, the country's economy minister Bruno Le Maire announced restrictions against price increases on hand sanitiser.

It comes after social media images show elevated price tags on disinfectant hand-gel at a pharmacy in Paris.

The product was labelled at 27.90 euros, but it is unclear how much the product was initially priced.

Hand gel was selling for almost €28 at a pharmacy in Paris. Credit: EVN

Asked by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt why the Department of Health was no longer providing daily regional information on the location of new cases, Prof Whitty said: "We had a bit of a communications fumble on this."

He said the plan was, in the medium term, for the Department of Health to provide "a lot more information with maps and other things" and a "dashboard" of cases.

But he said there would be "some delay of about 24 hours" to ensure the data is correct.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied the Government was withholding information on new cases.

Speaking on ITV's This Morning, he said: "Public Health needs to be absolutely sure about the diagnosis of these cases, so they are immediately identifying the region where they think there is an incident and then within 24 hours...we are building up a map, a proper database the public can access, showing the whole thing."

Number 10 confirmed geographic information on Covid-19 cases would be released daily.

The prime minister spokesman said: "I think the Prime Minister and the chief medical officer have both said this morning we will provide geographic information on cases - it will be at 2pm, it will be with a 24-hour delay to make sure that all of the details are correct."

Professor Whitty told the Health and Social Care Committee it is now "highly likely" there is "community transmission" of coronavirus in the UK.

He said he was "expecting more [cases] today, and expecting more over the next few weeks".

Meanwhile Mr Hancock confirmed the prime minister's pledge on sick pay saying: "We are of course working on ensuring that anybody, no matter the contract of their employment, the nature of their employment, for instance the self-employed as well, make sure that they are not penalised for doing the right thing."

He continued: "It is not as straight forward for those that don't receive statutory sick pay for various reasons but of course it's also vital that the same principle also applies to them and I am working with the DWP to make sure that we have provisions for those who are self-employed and for those who are working but not through a contract of employment."

Professor Whitty said there would be "some risk of transmission" from touching hand rails and hard surfaces for up to 72 hours.

But he added: "Just touching it will not give you the virus: it is if you touch it and then touch your face, having not washed your hands between them.

"So, if you go on to the Tube and touch the rail, that's fine, but just be aware of what you do with your hands - don't touch your face, wash your hands, and then you can do what you like."

What are the coronavirus developments around the world?

The Colosseum in Rome, usually full of tourists, was eerily quiet on Thursday. Credit: AP
  • Italy has placed temporary restrictions on visiting relatives in nursing homes and is urging the elderly not to go outside unless absolutely necessary.

  • The Italian government has already closed schools nationwide to try to contain Covid-19.

  • Iran reported 92 deaths among its more than 2,900 cases, though many fear the outbreak is far bigger.

  • South Korea reported 145 new infections on Thursday, raising its total to 5,766, the second-highest in the world.

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Japan has been postponed so both countries can fight the coronavirus outbreak, Japan's chief government spokesman confirmed.

  • China reported 139 new cases and 31 deaths, raising its totals to 80,409 cases and 3,012 deaths.

  • Hardest-hit Hubei province had most of the new cases and deaths, hospitals there released another 1,923 patients who were declared cured.