There are now 90 cases of coronavirus in the UK

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There are now 90 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK after Scotland declared three more.

Overall, current figures show 80 cases in England, six in Scotland, one in Wales and three in Northern Ireland.

It comes as MPs grill England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, on the UK’s plans for tackling Covid-19.

On Tuesday he warned that community transmission of the virus appeared to be occurring in the UK and an epidemic is looking “likely”.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which is chaired by the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, is also meeting on Thursday to discuss the situation.

Health Minister Edward Argar has said that efforts to tackle the coronavirus outbreak are still in the “containment” phase.

Mr Argar said ministers were awaiting the advice of Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty before moving to the next phase as set out in the Government’s “battle plan”.

“We are still very much in the containment stage at the moment. We are ready for the delay phase when it is necessary. He (Prof Whitty) hasn’t advised that we go for that yet,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

“He will be considering a range of factors as to when he thinks is the right time to move from a containment phase to a delay phase.

“We stand ready as and when and, if he does, to do what is necessary.”

Mr Argar said the “overwhelming majority” of cases in the UK were still linked to travel but there was a “small number” that were still being investigated to determine how the individuals became infected.

Mr Argar said it would be for the parliamentary authorities to decide whether Parliament should be shut down to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

He said that a “whole range of options” were being considered to ensure MPs, staff and visitors to Parliament remained safe.

“This is a matter for House authorities. It will be a matter for the Speaker (Sir Lindsay Hoyle) and the deputy speakers and the authorities to take advice from the Chief Medical Officer,” he said.

“The parliamentary authorities are taking advice on a whole range of options.”

Health Minister Edward Argar played down suggestions that Parliament could be shut for months if the coronavirus spread in the UK.

“What I understand is that the advice at the moment is not that that is necessary,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Mr Argar expressed confidence that the NHS would be able to cope if the number of cases started to rise.

“I am confident that the NHS would cope and would come up with the most appropriate medical interventions to ensure people are kept safe,” he said.

Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood said the new coronavirus patients are from the Forth Valley, Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Grampian areas and are all contacts of known cases.

In a statement, Dr Calderwood said: “Scotland is well equipped to deal with this kind of infection and we are doing everything we can to contain the virus at this stage and minimise the risk to the public.

“Clinicians are now conducting contact tracing, the process of gathering details of the places those who have tested positive visited and the people they have been in contact with.

“Close contact involves either face-to-face contact or spending more than 15 minutes within two metres of an infected person. The risk is very low in situations where someone may have passed a patient on the street or in a shop.

“Health protection teams will contact those who are at risk from the current cases – those who are not contacted are not at risk.”

England’s chief medical officer has said it is “highly likely” there is “community transmission” of the coronavirus in the UK.

Professor Chris Whitty told the Commons’ Health and Social Care Committee there were 85 officially reported cases, but that he was “expecting more today, and expecting more over the next few weeks”.

“I’m expecting the number only to go up, and there are now several – not large numbers – but several cases where we cannot see where this has come from in terms of a clear transmission, either because someone has come directly from overseas or because they’ve had a close contact with someone who has recently returned from overseas.

“That I think makes it highly likely therefore that there is some level of community transmission of this virus in the UK now.

“I think we should work on the assumption it is here, on very low levels, at this point in time – but that I think should be the working assumption on which we go forward from this point onwards.”

Prof Whitty said the response to coronavirus was already moving into its second “delay” phase, rather than seeking to simply “contain” the disease.

“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.

Prof Whitty told MPs that at the beginning it was hoped that the virus could have been contained mainly within China with a few outbreaks elsewhere and once the authorities got on top of it the Covid-19 would go away.

But, he said: “That is becoming an extraordinarily unlikely long-term outcome.

“We are not completely there and it is important to acknowledge that for ‘contain’ we need to have an international view about what we do about this.

“This is something which we should, in a sense, take the views of other nations as well as our own.

“But I think we need to be realistic about the fact that with so many different outbreaks, containing looks pretty optimistic.”

Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Chris Whitty said the delay phase was aimed at pushing back the peak of the epidemic.

That could move the peak of cases away from the “winter pressures on the NHS in all four nations of the UK”.

It would also allow more time for research into the nature of the Covid-19 virus and, thirdly, there was a possibility that – as with flu and colds – there could be a seasonal element which meant the rate of transmission went down.

Prof Whitty said there would not be a “step move” from the contain phase to the delay phase but “we are putting greater and greater priority on the elements of this which are delay”.

“For the early stages of delay, contain and delay are very similar, not quite the same. They are largely around finding early cases, isolating them, following their chains of transmission, where necessary isolating those people,” he said.

But as time goes by there would be measures that involved “changes to society”, he said.



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