UK preparing measures to help business, economy if coronavirus spreads

LONDON (Reuters) – The British government will unveil an action plan to tackle a spread of coronavirus on Tuesday with possible measures to support the health service, businesses and the economy.

The United Kingdom has so far had 39 confirmed cases of the virus, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that a “very significant expansion of coronavirus” was possible and the country should be prepared for it.

He is to publish the government’s “battle plan” to tackle the spread of the virus, holding a news conference alongside England’s Chief Medical Officer and the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser.

The plan will include the option of encouraging more home working and discouraging unnecessary travel as part of what it called a “social distancing” strategy to delay the peak of the outbreak until later in the year when the weather is warmer and the health service is under less seasonal pressure.

Other measures include looking at emergency registration for health professionals who have retired, the government said.

“It is highly likely coronavirus will spread more widely in the coming days and weeks, which is why we’re making every possible preparation,” Johnson said in a statement.

The government is due to launch a major public information campaign later this week, run from a “war room” in the Cabinet Office, setting out steps people can take to limit the spread of the virus, such as washing their hands regularly.

Johnson’s office said it would also publish legislation in the coming weeks which would give the government necessary powers to prepare for and tackle the outbreak.

Matt Hancock said the government was not planning yet to cancel mass gatherings or large sports events, but said it did not rule out introducing “no-go zones”.

“Right now, we do not recommend the cancelling of mass events and schools as well should not be closing unless there is a positive case and the schools have the advice to close,” Hancock told BBC TV.

“There maybe things we have to do down the line that we don’t want to, but we will need the powers to do that hence proposing emergency legislation.”

The Treasury department said finance minister Rishi Sunak would provide a further update on economic developments and government action when he presents his first budget to parliament on March 11.

He has asked officials to work up “further measures to support the public health response, businesses and the economy as needed”.

The central bank said on Monday it was working with international partners and the finance ministry to ensure all necessary steps are taken to offset the economic hit from coronavirus.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Michael Holden; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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