Coronavirus: expect widespread infection in UK ‘fairly soon’, warns health official | World news

The UK can expect to see widespread infection of the coronavirus “fairly soon”, one of England’s top health officials has warned.

Following a significant rise in the number of UK cases over the weekend – with 12 more confirmed in England and another in Scotland – Public Health England’s medical director, Paul Cosford, said to prepare for more widespread infection in the UK.

He said: “If we do get widespread transmission in the UK the most important thing for us now is to make sure we’re prepared in every possible way to slow the spread of infection so the intensity reduces and we’re able to deal with the consequences.

“We’re not there yet but we’ve got to be prepared for it.”

Cosford, who was doing the morning broadcast rounds on Monday, said that with the increase of cases in the UK, coupled with rising numbers in countries in neighbouring Europe and globally, it was “highly likely” the UK would experience widespread transmission.

An emergency meeting was taking place on Monday morning of the government’s Cobra national security committee, which will sign off a “battle plan” to address the outbreak.

The number of UK cases rose to 36 over the weekend, including a patient in Essex who became the second in the country to test positive without having recently travelled abroad. They included a clinician from the Mount Vernon cancer centre in Middlesex and a GP in Haslemere, Surrey.

If the UK does see more widespread transmission of the virus, further action to reduce social contact may be needed, Cosford added.

“We’ve all got a part to play in slowing the spread of infection. We do need to get to a point where we reduce social contact if we see more widespread infection.

“At the moment we’re in the position of we need to continue life as normal but we need to be prepared for the actions that we may need to take.

“We may get to a position [where] we ask people to isolate themselves at home if a member of their family is infected, not just if it’s them themselves.

“We may reach a position where we say carry on going to school or work, but if you can work from home that’s a very sensible thing to do and think of all the different ways you can reduce your social contact outside those activities.”

He emphasised that the vast majority of cases in the UK could be traced back to travel to affected countries, though there were cases where the source of infection was still unclear.

Cosford said it was important to maintain a degree of perspective, noting that the vast majority of people make a full recovery from coronavirus and it is a relatively mild illness. With children and otherwise healthy adults appearing to be at much lower risk of serious complications from Covid-19, he said older people and those with severe underlying illnesses continued to be of particular concern.

He also reiterated a sense of personal responsibility was needed to prevent the spread of infection, including basic hygiene practices such as properly washing our hands.

Over the weekend, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said that if the coronavirus continued to spread in the UK, the government was considering all options, from closing schools to banning large-scale public events. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: “We don’t take anything off the table at this stage.”

The global death toll from Covid-19 has surpassed 3,000, the vast majority in China, and more than 88,000 people in over 60 countries across the globe have been infected.

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