UK coronavirus cases surge into triple figures with 116 diagnosed
5 March 2020, 16:01 | Updated: 5 March 2020, 18:55
The number of coronavirus cases in the UK has hit 116, it has been confirmed.
The news marks the first time the number of cases has hit triple figures as the illness continues to sweep across the country.
It means there have been 26 further cases across the UK in the past 24 hours, 25 in England, and one in Cardiff, Wales.
As of 9am on Thursday, 18,083 people have been tested.
Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, said 17 people were diagnosed who had recently travelled from countries or clusters already under investigation.
Eight people contracted the virus in the UK, he added, and it is not yet clear whether that caught it directly or indirectly from an individual who had recently returned from abroad.
Included in the above figures are 25 further cases in England.— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) March 5, 2020
Following previously reported confirmed cases in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, the total number of UK cases is 115.
All are being investigated and contact tracing has begun. pic.twitter.com/dx5p4sqtJZ
Thursday's update from the Department of Health came after England's chief medical officer warned critical care beds in the NHS could be put under intense pressure during an epidemic.
Prof Whitty told MPs the UK has now mainly moved into the "delay phase" of tackling the virus.
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, he added.
Boris Johnson's battle plan to combat the spread of the virus includes asking workplaces to allow more staff to work from home.
The Times newspaper has reported plans are being drawn up that would mean the Commons and Lords not returning after Easter.
MPs rise on March 31 and sitting would be suspended until September in “the longest summer recess we have known”, one senior parliamentary source told the newspaper.
The jump in confirmed cases comes as England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, warned that a UK epidemic is looking "likely".
As we reported yesterday, the Prime Minister announced new sick pay changes as part of emergency coronavirus legislation so that anyone self-isolating is paid from day one rather than day four as current rules state.
Boris Johnson told MPs that people who self-isolate are "helping to protect all of us by slowing the spread of the virus".
He added: "If they stay at home and if we ask people to self-isolate, they may lose out financially.
"So, I can today announce that the Health Secretary will bring forward, as part of our emergency coronavirus legislation, measures to allow the payment of statutory sick pay from the very first day you are sick instead of four days under the current rules, and I think that's the right way forward.
"Nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing."
Earlier, Prof Whitty told reporters there could be a need to do "extreme things" to protect the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions.
He added: "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."
Read more: Coronavirus: What is a pandemic and how is one declared?
But he stressed that for most people, "this will be a mild or moderate disease, anything from a sniffle to having to go to bed for a few days, rather like with mild flu".
He said if the UK sees a very large epidemic, "then it will put very high pressure on the NHS", and there could be "several weeks which could be very difficult" for the health service and wider society.
Prof Whitty suggested that shutting down cities in the UK would not be effective now.
He said: "Closing cities is really only appropriate if you have a significant epidemic in one particular place and almost nothing anywhere else.
"It made sense for China to respond in the way it did but it would be very unlikely here ... This is now in multiple places in Europe and around the world."
Read more: ‘Don’t die, please buy’ Glasgow newsagent sells out entire stock of coronavirus face masks
A letter to NHS trusts has also been published telling them to ramp up their plans for tackling Covid-19, including seeing patients via video-link.
It sets out that a level 4 NHS incident has been declared - the highest level - meaning extra steps are needed.
Former business secretary Andrea Leadsom said preparations for a no-deal Brexit had aided the Government's response to the coronavirus outbreak.
She told Sky News: "Ironically, I think a lot of the work we did last year preparing for the supposed no-deal Brexit on 31 October has stood the Government in incredibly good stead - looking at packages of support and how you might be able to help companies keep going should something dramatic happen.
"I'm quite sure that some of that will be being dusted off with a view to looking at how that could be adapted."
A new Government publicity campaign seeks to drive home the message that regular hand-washing is the single most important action individuals can take in the fight against Covid-19.
The new adverts say hand-washing should be for 20 seconds, using soap and water or hand sanitiser.
Government scientific experts predict the UK's coronavirus outbreak could last around four to six months.
Globally, there are now more than 90,000 cases worldwide, with more than 3,000 deaths.