Coronavirus: 87 cases now confirmed in the UK

4 March 2020, 23:58 | Updated: 5 March 2020, 00:01

The Government is encouraging the public to wash their hands properly
The Government is encouraging the public to wash their hands properly. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

England's chief medical officer says the UK will probably see a 'significant' rise in coronavirus cases within around six weeks - and that we should expect deaths.

Professor Chris Whitty has insisted the public should not be alarmed, but instead focus on protecting ourselves.

A Government campaign's been launched highlighting how we can do just that, by washing our hands properly.

He said up to 20 per cent of the population could be sick at any one time.

It comes as the number of cases in the UK rose to 87 on Wednesday.

Speaking to the BBC Prof Whitty said it was "likely" but not definite that the spread of the coronavirus would become an epidemic in the UK.

"At this point in time we think it is likely, not definite, that we will move into onward transmission and an epidemic here in the UK," he said.

On Tuesday the Government's "battle plan" for tackling the virus was released which said in a worst-case scenario, up to 80% of the population could become infected, with people in hospital with pneumonia and a relatively high death rate among the elderly and frail.

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari, the Chief Medical Officer said the low number of cases in the UK is because "we have been lucky," but he did attribute the success in halting the spread to good work by NHS staff.

He said public health authorities are very good at "slowing down the spread".

When asked if face masks can stop coronavirus Professor Whitty said they are "useful only if people have coronavirus or another kind of infection."

He added they can reduce the possibility of someone who is infected passing the virus on.

"They are not effective in reducing it significantly if you just wear them and you are well yourself."

He revealed to LBC that a vaccine was still "at least a year" away due to all the stages that any potential solution would have to go through before it can be dispensed to the public.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said she could not say yet if the new cases of Covid-19 were linked to the first one north of the border, in Tayside.

Officials were informed of the new cases overnight, Ms Freeman said.

She told the BBC: "We now have three cases in Scotland."

It comes the day after the Government launched its "battle plan" to combat the outbreak with a warning that up to a fifth of the UK workforce could be off sick when the virus hits its peak.

Meanwhile, NHS England has ordered hospitals to review their intensive care bed numbers and how they could be increased to cope with a surge in cases.

In a letter to NHS bosses, strategic incident director Keith Willett said a level four incident - the highest category - had been declared

He raised the prospect that infected patients may soon start being treated on hospital wards as the numbers grow.

Hospitals have been told to draw up plans to segregate wards such as A&E departments in the event of a "significant escalation" in cases.

All adults and children in intensive care with any kind of respiratory infection must also now be tested for the virus.

Happening Now