British health authorities on Sunday confirmed 12 more cases of the new coronavirus, bringing the country’s overall tally to 35, and the Czech Republic announced its first three infections.
The British government’s chief medical officer, Prof. Chris Whitty, said one of the new patients “had no relevant travel and it is not yet clear whether they contracted it directly or indirectly from an individual who had recently returned from abroad.” Whitty said medical workers were still investigating the cause of that infection.
Three of the new COVID-19 patients in Britain were contacts of an existing patient while six newly infected people had recently traveled from Italy and two had arrived from Iran. Both countries have been hard hit by the coronavirus that emerged late last year in central China.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters Sunday at a health center in London that he was “very, very confident” that Britain’s National Health Service can cope with the virus outbreak.
“(It’s) likely to spread a bit more, and it’s vital therefore that people understand that we do have a great plan, a plan to tackle the spread of coronavirus,” he said.
The government has said its plan if the outbreak worsens could include asking newly-retired doctors and nurses to return to the NHS.
People could also be urged to work from home – and closing schools and cancelling major public events have also not been ruled out.
“There now seems little doubt that it will present a significant challenge for our country,” Mr Johnson is expected to tell the meeting, which will involve the UK’s chief medical adviser as well as Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
“This battle plan lays out in detail the measures we could use – if and when they are needed.”
The government has also set up a “war room” in the Cabinet Office to roll out a public health campaign encouraging people to wash their hands for 20 seconds or more.
On Sunday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK was still in the “containment” phase of the outbreak – one of four phases:
Containment – caring for any infected people and identifying their close contacts;
Delay – deciding what actions to take to slow down the spread;
Mitigation – damage limitation if the virus spreads widely;
Research – constant and ongoing work to inform the three other phases.
He said no tactics will be “off the table” and the battle plan drawn up for the worst case scenario – which will be discussed at the Cobra meeting – includes banning big events, closing schools and dissuading people from using public transport.