Jeremy Hunt blasts PM's 'concerning' decision not to ban public events

Ex-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt blasts Boris Johnson’s ‘concerning’ decision not to ban public events and wants end to care home visits as he says government is NOT doing enough to battle coronavirus ‘national emergency’

  • Boris Johnson warns UK facing ‘worst public health crisis in a generation’ and says ‘many more’ people will die
  • PM said anyone with mild symptoms of a persistent cough or fever must self-isolate for a period of seven days
  • But he opted not take more drastic action like shutting down schools despite experts saying it could help 
  • Ex-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: ‘It is surprising and concerning that we’re not doing any of it at all’
  • UK has had 590 cases with 10 deaths – but true figure is between 5,000 and 10,000 and growing very fast
  • Government advisers also said between 5,000 and 10,000 people in the UK are thought to have the disease
  • Those in self-isolation told not to call 111 NHS number unless condition deteriorates, they will not be tested 
  • Over 70s and those with long-term serious conditions banned from cruises, overseas school trips scrapped
  • More than 131,000 cases of the killer coronavirus have been recorded worldwide – nearly 5,000 have died
  • Do you have a story about coronavirus? Email [email protected] or ring 020 361 51181 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has revealed he is ‘surprised and concerned’ Boris Johnson didn’t lock down parts of Britain to tackle the coronavirus ‘national emergency’ as debate rages over whether the Prime Minister has gone far enough to protect the UK’s 66million people from the pandemic.

Mr Hunt, who is now chair of the Commons health and social care select committee, believes the PM must do more to encourage social distancing – and was particularly concerned care homes are not being told to ban visitors. 

The official number of coronavirus cases in the UK yesterday jumped by 134 to 596 with 10 deaths – but the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the true number was probably up to 10,000 cases and growing rapidly. 

But Mr Johnson has still held off drastic measures enforced across Europe such as banning mass gatherings and closing schools, telling Britons that the most important measure remains to wash hands for 20 seconds – and told people to stay at home for seven days if they have a new persistent cough or a high temperature. A ban on flights to and from Europe – like the one announced by US President Donald Trump – was also dismissed by the Government yesterday. 

Asked about the decision not to cancel large gatherings yet, Mr Hunt told the BBC’s Newsnight: ‘I think it is surprising and concerning that we’re not doing any of it at all when we have just four weeks before we get to the stage that Italy is at.’

He added: ‘The issue is not whether you or I might get infected at a football match, it’s who we go on to meet.’ 

Italy – the world’s worst-hit country after China – is in complete lockdown as the country’s tally of deaths has topped 1,000 with more than 15,000 patients infected by the virus. 

In response to the growing threat across Europe, Ireland yesterday closed all schools, colleges and nurseries and banned gatherings of more than 500 people. 

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg last night put the country on a footing never seen in peacetime, despite having recorded no coronavirus deaths yet. Ms Solberg took all the Irish steps as well as banning all health workers from leaving the country, and forcing anyone returning from abroad into quarantine, including the king and queen who have been on a state visit to Jordan. 

But controversially the British Government appears to be pursuing a policy of ‘herd immunity’ – where the majority of the healthy population will get and fight off the virus so that the disease cannot be spread easily any more. The elderly and ill will be ‘cocooned’ from the outside world to protect them for weeks or even months. 

Critics have warned the policy is high risk because there have been multiple reports in China of people getting it twice – and concerns from experts that coronavirus could mutate and infect hundreds of thousands again in the coming years unless there is a vaccine.

In other developments today to the escalating global crisis, which has seen more than 131,000 patients across the world get infected: 

  • A Chinese spokesman accused the US military of bringing the coronavirus to Wuhan – the Chinese city where the COVID-19 outbreak began at the end of December; 
  • A 37-year-old US woman who beat the infection claimed she didn’t suffer the tell-tale symptom of a cough and instead only had a headache and tingling arms and legs;
  • French President Emmanuel Macron declared the pandemic as France’s worst health crisis in a century and announced schools, universities and day-care centres would be shut from Monday;
  • Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa ordered the shut-down of schools and universities and placed limits on the number of people in nightclubs, restaurants and shopping centres at any one time;
  • Belgium announced the closure of all schools, restaurants, cafes and nightclubs and also banned recreational and sporting events in its fight to contain the growing epidemic; 
  • Danish authorities called on shoppers to avoid excessive stockpiling after it closed schools and universities and suspended indoor events with more than 100 participants; 
  • Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed gatherings of 500 people or more would be stopped from Monday and school trips would be cancelled; 
  • Germany shut nightclubs and schools after Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that up to 70 per cent of the country’s population – 58million people – could contract the coronavirus;
  • Spain locked down four towns in Catalonia, shut schools and universities and suspended Parliament after its deputy prime minister was in self-isolation after his wife tested positive for the virus;
  • An Italian medical chief died of the coronavirus at the age of 67, as the death toll in the country – the centre of Europe’s escalating crisis – jumped to over 1,000;
  • Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the government will effectively ban ‘non essential’ public gatherings of more than 500 people from Monday.

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said he is ‘surprised’ Boris Johnson didn’t lockdown parts of Britain to tackle the coronavirus ‘national emergency’ as debate rages over whether the PM has gone far enough

Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, has today defended the Government’s approach and its lack of hardline response along the lines seen across Europe.

He told Sky News: ‘We’ve got a panel of very world leading scientists across epidemiology, mathematical modelling, virology, clinicians, and we’re taking input from leading academics to try and come up with a plan that actually does what we want to do.

‘It doesn’t mean that the others are doing something wrong, and in fact much of the advice and much of the actions, if you look at them, they are trying to achieve the same thing.

‘And that is to try to reduce the peak of the epidemic, flatten it and broaden it so that you don’t end up with so much intense pressure on healthcare systems at one time’.

He added: ‘And mass gatherings of course are a place where you can potentially get infection from somebody, but the alternative is also important that if you’re not at a mass gathering, you’re at a small gathering, and most of the transmission of these types of viruses occur in small gatherings, not in big gatherings’. 

Sir Patrick insists that telling people with cold and flu-like symptoms to stay at home for a week will have an impact.

He said: ‘The measures that were announced, which is about self-isolation, even if you’ve got very mild symptoms, will mean a large number of people actually at home, being isolated because of this infection.

‘That’s a very big measure actually, it’s going to have quite a big impact across a number of households and a number of people, so I don’t think that’s a trivial measure at all.

‘And all the modelling suggests that these sorts of measures, and the other two that we discussed yesterday, the ones that have the biggest impact’.

Boris Johnson yesterday branded coronavirus the ‘worst public health crisis in a generation’ and warned that ‘many more’ people are going to die – but still held off drastic measures. 

Mr Hunt, chair of the Commons health and social care committee, said he was also ‘personally surprised that we’re still allowing external visits to care homes’. 

The Prime Minister said it was clear the disease will continue to spread around the world and people should brace for the ‘reality’ of ‘severe disruption’ for many months.

At a press conference in Westminster, Mr Johnson formally declared that the UK’s tactics have shifted from ‘containing’ the killer disease to merely ‘delaying’ its inevitable spread, after he chaired a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee. 

The Government’s new plan urges anyone with even mild coronavirus-like symptoms – a persistent cough or a fever – to quarantine themselves at home and to sleep alone if possible and stay at least two metres from relatives.

The PM has also recommended all overseas school trips be cancelled while people over the age of 70 or those with pre-existing serious medical conditions have been told not to go on cruises.

But he stopped short of more extreme measures such as closing schools and banning mass gatherings which have been adopted in Ireland, Norway, France and Italy in an effort to stem the spread of the virus. 

‘At all stages we have been guided by the science. We will do the right thing at the right time,’ Mr Johnson said.   

The number of UK cases has risen by 130 and the death toll hit 10 in the last 24 hours, with experts increasingly bracing for turmoil as the overwhelming majority of the population becomes infected and the country develops ‘herd immunity’. 

But chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said he believed the true number of infections was likely to be 5,000-10,000 already. He estimated that the UK was four weeks behind the trajectory of the crisis in Italy – which has brought the country to its knees.

The peak of the outbreak in the UK might not come for 10-14 weeks, the experts said – suggesting it will run into June. 

Hundreds of thousands of people are attending Cheltenham Festival this week despite many warning against attending large public events due to the potential spread of the virus

The number of cases of coronavirus outside of China is soaring. Outbreaks are hitting some countries particularly hard because authorities are reluctant to start drastic measures like stopping travel, sending workers home and shutting schools because they will damage the economy

Mr Johnson insisted comparisons to seasonal flu were wrong. 


Herd immunity is a situation in which a population of people is protected from a disease because so many of them are unaffected by it that it cannot spread. 

To cause an outbreak a disease-causing bacteria or virus must have a continuous supply of potential victims who are not immune to it.

Immunity is when your body knows exactly how to fight off a certain type of infection because it has encountered it before, either by having the illness in the past or through a vaccine.

When a virus or bacteria enters the body the immune system creates substances called antibodies, which are designed to destroy one specific type of bug.

When these have been created once, some of them remain in the body and the body also remembers how to make them again. This provides long-term protection, or immunity, against an illness.

If nobody is immune to an illness – as was the case at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak – it can spread like wildfire.

However, if, for example, half of people have developed immunity – from a past infection or a vaccine – there are only half as many people the illness can spread to.

As more and more people become immune the bug finds it harder and harder to spread until its pool of victims becomes so small it can no longer spread at all.

The threshold for herd immunity is different for various illnesses, depending on how contagious they are – for measles, around 95 per cent of people must be vaccinated to it spreading.

For polio, which is less contagious, the threshold is about 80-85 per cent, according to the Oxford Vaccine Group.

‘This is more dangerous and it’s going to spread further. And I must level with you and the British public: more families, many more families, are going to lose loved ones before their time,’ he said. 

Despite the bloodcurdling warnings, Mr Johnson said the UK would not close schools yet even though government advisers admitted the move would help stem the outbreak. 

Advisers said the length of closure necessary to make the measure work could be more than 16 weeks and would at this stage therefore not be feasible. 

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said it was not realistic to expect children to be cooped up that long. 

He said: ‘It is true that there is some effect in closing schools but that effect is minimal and actually you would have to do it for 13 to 16 weeks or longer.

‘You do not have to be a very advanced mathematician to work out that the chances of keeping children not speaking to each other or playing with each other are zero.’

Closing down schools could also put elderly grandparents at risk if they were asked to look after children, who are believed to be less susceptible to the most severe form of the disease but can still spread it.

‘The scientific advice is that this could do more harm than good,’ Mr Johnson said. 

‘But we are keeping this under review and this could change as the disease spreads. Schools should only close if they are specifically advised to do so.’

Mr Johnson conceded that Scotland was already banning mass gatherings, but suggested there was a ‘particular issue with the resilience of their public services’ north of the border, in a perceived swipe at Nicola Sturgeon after she undermined him by announcing her plans first.

‘We are not saying no to that sort of measures, of course not,’ Mr Johnson said. ‘We are keeping it up our sleeves. But it is very important… that we get the timing right.’ 

‘Sleep alone, don’t go for a walk and don’t shake your dirty laundry’: Government issues advice for people self-isolating  

The Government issued a how-to guide for people forced to quarantine this afternoon.

It came as Boris Johnson and his medical advisers said anyone with symptoms of coronavirus should stay at home for seven days. 

The guidance provides practical advice, including keeping away from all other human beings as much as possible.

It includes: 

  • You cannot go for a walk but you can use your own garden.
  • You can buy food and other supplies online but you must warn drivers to leave goods outside and do not invite them in. 
  • Stay in a well-ventilated room with a window that can be opened. 
  • Stay in a different room to other people you live with.
  • If that isn’t possible stay two metres or three steps away from other people. 
  • Sleep alone if possible. 
  • Do not have visitors. 
  • Use your own toothbrushes, eating and drinking utensils, dishes, drinks, towels, washcloths or bedlinen. 
  • Use the kitchen at different times to others in the house and eat alone.
  • Use a dishwasher if you have one.
  • If you are breastfeeding, consider asking someone else to feed the baby using expressed milk in a bottle.
  • Bag personal waste like used tissues inside two bags and keep it away from other household waste for 72 hours before adding to refuse. 
  • Do not shake dirty laundry; this minimises the possibility of dispersing virus through the air.
  • If you don’t have a washing machine wait until after you isolation before going to a launderette.
  • Keep hydrated by drinking water.
  • Clean your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. 

Chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty added: ‘We need to do it at the last point it is reasonable so people maintain their energy and enthusiasm… it is important we do not ask our fellow citizens to do it for longer than makes sense.’ 

The FTSE plunged by more than 10 per cent yesterday in response to the dramatic US announcement of a travel ban from Europe overnight, and growing global chaos. 

And in the latest high-profile victim of the outbreak, BT’s chief executive, Philip Jansen, tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.

‘Having felt slightly unwell I decided as a precaution to be tested. As soon as the test results were known I isolated myself at home,’ Jansen said in a statement. ‘I’ve met several industry partners this week so felt it was the responsible thing to do to alert them to this fact as soon as I could.’

Jansen said his symptoms seemed mild and he would work remotely over the coming week, avoiding disruption to the business of Britain’s biggest telecoms group. 

The UK approach is increasingly at odds with that of other countries, with Ireland joining the list of those closing all schools and colleges and banning mass gatherings. 

In the first sign of splits within the UK, Nicola Sturgeon has declared that Scotland will also cancelling events with more than 500 people from the start of next week, saying that they take up too much time for emergency services.

She admitted: ‘These are not easy judgements. They are difficult and complicated.’

The government has also made clear it will not follow Donald Trump’s dramatic overnight move of closing the borders to travellers from mainland Europe. 

Instead Mr Johnson seems determined to take a limited response, asking those with a cold to self-quarantine, and urge vulnerable elderly people to stay indoors.

How the UK’s coronavirus ‘battle plan’ could unfold


Testing individuals reporting symptoms or returning from infected areas, isolating those who have coronavirus.

Tracing how they contracted the virus, and everyone they might have come into contact with while infectious.

Powers have been taken to force people into quarantine if they refuse to comply voluntarily. This stage of the UK’s response has now ended.


Ministers have ordered wider testing to assess prevalence in the community. 

Anyone with coronavirus-like symptoms is being asked to self-isolate.

Sick pay provision has been bolstered to make the self-employed and low-paid workers more likely to comply. 

Further up the so-called ‘ladder’ of response options, vulnerable people could be urged to stay indoors, schools could be closed, and sports and public gatherings could be banned. 

Ministers say the scientific advice does not yet support that – although Ireland is closing schools, and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is banning gatherings of more than 500 people.

The government has also rejected the US approach of barring travellers from mainland Europe for the moment. 


If the outbreak runs out of control, the NHS could cancel all non-urgent activity to focus on treating those affected.

In an extreme situation, troops could be deployed to shore up the police and essential public services.

Recently-retired doctors and nurses would be brought back to help plug gaps in the NHS, with many health workers expected to be infected along with regular members of the public. 

Former Cabinet minister Rory Stewart this afternoon accused the PM of ‘smug insular complacency, warning that without quick action there could be 100,000 cases in the UK within the next 24 days.

‘This is at risk of becoming an example of smug insular complacency – refusing to pay any attention to what any other country is doing or the successful public health approach in Asia,’ the London Mayor hopeful said. ‘We should show some humility, learn from others and act now.’  

On another day of frantic activity by politicians and health experts around the globe: 

  • Irish PM Leo Varadkar has declared that schools, colleges and childcare facilities are to close for two weeks;
  • Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared that she is ‘minded’ to cancel mass gatherings of over 500 people from the start of next week to avoid them sucking up resources for police and health workers;
  • The US Congress is shutting the Capitol, House and Senate office buildings to public until April 1 in reaction to coronavirus; 
  • The Electoral Commission has called for the local and mayoral polls due in May to be postponed until the Autumn; 
  • The UK and the EU jointly announced that face to face Brexit trade talks next week would not go ahead as planned but they could be conducted using video technology;
  • The FTSE 100 fell by more than 9 per cent as investors were rattled by US travel restrictions imposed by in an attempt to halt the pandemic; 
  • The Czech Republic is closing its borders to travellers crossing from Germany and Austria and also banning the entry of foreigners coming from other risky countries to contain the coronavirus outbreak;
  • Norway and Lithuania are shutting down nurseries, schools and universities for at least two weeks, and Oslo has told workers to stay at least one metre apart in offices;
  • Labour has cancelled a conference to announce the results of its leadership contest, saying the replacement for Jeremy Corbyn will now be declared at a ‘scaled back’ event on April 4; 
  • Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has self-isolated while his wife awaits the results of a coronavirus test; 
  • The WHO warned that the travel ban announced by Mr Trump will do little to help combat coronavirus in the UK and could backfire by making people complacent; 
  • Mr Sunak said he made ‘no apology’ for turning on the spending taps to counter the effects of the virus on the UK economy and society; 
  • A Cabinet minister is awaiting the results of a coronavirus test, with four other MPs in quarantine after health minister Nadine Dorries became the first politician to be diagnosed with the disease; 
  • Tube and transport systems were quieter than usual as the public preempted the expected advice from government on restricting social contact;
  • Sporting events have been called off, with golf set to be played without crowds and the tennis tour put on hold for six weeks; 
  • Sittings in Parliament could be scaled back and the authorities are considering closing to visitors amid fears of spread on the estate. 

Face masks have been increasingly in evidence on the streets of London (pictured) as fears over coronavirus spread

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (pictured giving a press conference) said she would be banning public gatherings of more than 500 people, while Donald Trump (right) banned all travel from Europe

Leo Varadkar (pictured in Washington) has declared schools, colleges and childcare facilities are to close for two weeks

Early lockdown ‘can cut coronavirus infections’ 

Experts have slammed the UK’s lack of action over its 590 coronavirus cases and said that efforts to stop or delay an outbreak could ‘flatten the curve’ of the epidemic, spreading the peak of cases over a longer period of time to prevent sudden large spike in cases which could cripple hospitals (dotted line indicates hospitals’ maximum capacity)

Shocking charts show how the UK Government could prevent hundreds or even thousands of deaths by taking dramatic action now to fight the killer coronavirus and ‘flatten the curve’ of its spiralling epidemic.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided not to move forward in Britain’s fight against COVID-19, declining to close schools, send people home from work or ban large gatherings.

But he is coming under intense scrutiny for refusing to budge – one frustrated scientist warned: ‘Now is the time for the UK government to ban large gatherings, ask people to stop non-essential travel, recommend employers shift to home working and ramp up the response.’

Official advice currently doesn’t go much further than telling citizens to wash their hands even though the UK now has more cases than China did when Wuhan’s 11million people were forced into lockdown.

Scientists and critics are urging the Government to do more to prolong an inevitable surge in cases, saying that a spike of infections could cripple the NHS but spreading the cases over a longer period of time would ‘flatten the curve’ and make it easier for the nation to cope. 

An analysis of statistics has shown that areas that acted fast have slashed their death rates by up to eight times compared to those who react after the virus has taken hold.

In South Korea, for example, an area home to 2.5million people was put into lockdown when just 204 people had been diagnosed and one had died. The country now has a death rate of just 0.8 per cent despite more than 7,800 cases.

But in Italy, large-scale lockdowns were not brought in until Sunday, March 8, by which time it had more than 5,800 patients. There are now almost 12,500 and 827 deaths – a death rate of 6.6 per cent. 

This graph shows how St Louis, Missouri, kept its death rate significantly lower by starting social distancing measures immediately after the first cases of flu were discovered. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, however, allowed a city parade to go ahead and took two weeks to bring in the same measures – as a result its death rate was considerably higher

Ms Sturgeon said this evening that Scotland was shutting down public events ‘that have the potential to have an impact on our frontline emergency services’.

‘This is not a move that we are making because the science has told us it will have a significant impact on the spread of the virus: on the contrary, the scientists tell us it will not have a significant impact on the spread of the virus – although no significant impact does not equate to no impact at all,’ she said.

‘But there are wider reasons that I consider and have judged that are important in reaching this decision.’

‘Certain events, whether or not they need dedicated ambulance cover, we know that certain events have an impact on our policing and our front-line health services, accident and emergency and ambulance services.

‘At a time when pressure on those services is going to be considerable … it is incumbent on government to do what we can to remove unnecessary burdens on our public services.’

The decision is set to come into force the day after Rangers host Celtic in one of this weekend’s Ladbrokes Premiership fixtures, with the champions currently 13 points clear of their rivals.

Prof Whitty said the UK would not be introducing social distancing measures yet as it was not the right moment within the pandemic.

But he warned that advice would be coming for elderly and vulnerable people to isolate themselves from social gatherings.

He said: ‘The next stage along we are going to want to do a package of things that are about putting social distancing around the people who are older and those with severe health conditions.

‘But we do not think it is appropriate to make a national recommendation for that at the moment because it is too early in the course of the epidemic.

‘If you think about what would happen if you prematurely put elderly or vulnerable in a situation where you’re saying, we really want to cut down on your social interactions, to cut back on your contact with others, it has big practical implications for them and may lead to loneliness and other issues which are clearly very undesirable for them.

‘While we will need to move to that stage, we do not think this is the right moment along the pandemic to do so. But that point will come.’

Eariler, Mr Johnson swiped at political leaders who do not ‘follow the science’. 

In comments made before Mr Trump’s announcement, he said many leaders were ‘under a lot of pressure to be seen to act’. 

Asked whether the PM knew of Mr Trump’s escalation in advance, Downing Street said: ‘UK and US officials are in regular contact.’  

To fight what is now officially a global pandemic, the Budget handed hospitals a £5billion fighting fund while thousands of firms will be given a business rates holiday to help avert the risk of bankruptcy.

Sick pay will be reformed to ensure that employees are not penalised for going into quarantine. 

In a round of interviews, Mr Sunak told the BBC: ‘I make absolutely no apology for responding in the short term in scale to the immediate threat that we face from coronavirus. 

‘I think that’s the right thing to do for the economy, we need to help businesses have a bridge to get to the other side.’

His package came as the Bank of England’s base rate was slashed to an historic low of just 0.25 per cent.   

Irish PM Leo Varadkar has declared that schools, colleges and childcare facilities are to close for two weeks.

He made a live statement to the nation from Washington DC, where he is due to meet Mr Trump later as part of the annual St Patrick’s Day programme of events. 

‘Unfortunately we must face the tragic reality that some people will die,’ he said.

Mr Varadkar said he was acting on fresh advice from the country’s National Public Health Emergency Team.

‘The virus is all over the world, it will continue to spread but it can be slowed,’ he said. 

Dr David Halpern, head of the UK’s Behavioural Insights Team dubbed Britain’s ‘Nudge Unit’ who reports directly to Mr Johnson, has suggested the 500,000 people in UK care homes or with respiratory conditions could be the only people protected.

He has suggested the virus can be beaten by letting it spread through healthy people to kill it off rather than a nationwide lockdown that could allow coronavirus to rise again later in the year.

Dr Halpern has revealed ministers are considering a policy of keeping high-risk groups such as the elderly or those with underlying health conditions isolated in care homes or in their own homes over the coming months.

He said: ‘There’s going to be a point, assuming the epidemic flows and grows as it will do, where you want to cocoon, to protect those at-risk groups so they don’t catch the disease.

‘By the time they come out of their cocooning, herd immunity has been achieved in the rest of the population’.  

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (left) and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty (right) were at the Cobra meeting 

Former Cabinet minister Rory Stewart this afternoon accused the PM of ‘smug insular complacency, warning that without quick action there could be 100,000 cases in the UK within the next 24 days.

Deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries was asked on the BBC if ‘pretty much everyone will get it eventually’.

‘The thing about a new virus is, of course, nobody has antibodies ready-made to it. This virus is having a field day, the desire will be to infect as many people as it can,’ she said.

Dr Harries said it was possible that ‘up to 80 per cent of the population’ could contract the virus, but added that it was a ‘very high estimate’.

Scottish First minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was not possible to make the virus ‘go away’.

‘This is a serious situation. We cannot make this virus go away. It is highly likely now that significant numbers of us are going to get this virus,’ she said.

‘The vast majority will have very mild illness and the clear focus right now is on doing everything we can to protect those who are more susceptible to serious illness, but we cannot make this go away, we need to focus on how we manage this outbreak, delay the spread and reduce the numbers infected at any one time.’

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme there is ‘no doubt we are not going to be able to contain it for very much longer’ and that efforts will now focus on delaying the spread of the virus to ‘put less pressure on the NHS’. 

Speaking hours after world health officials declared the coronavirus a pandemic, Trump repeatedly defended his own actions and vowed the nation would prevail in countering the virus and getting treatment on the market.

‘We will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days,’ Trump announced, in a speech from the Oval Office to the nation. 

‘The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight,’ he said. 

The move was so sudden the acting Homeland Security secretary said he would issue full guidance on how to carry it out within 48 hours.

The White House said the travel restrictions would apply to foreign nationals who have visited 26 European countries – but excluding the UK and Ireland – in the past 14 days. 

It will not apply to US citizens, their ‘immediate’ family members or legal permanent residents. But confusion remained over how exactly the rules would apply and in what time zone the deadline would be introduced. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the UK was not following the US example.

‘The advice we are getting is that there is not evidence that interventions like closing borders or travel bans are going to have a material effect on the spread of the infections,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. 

‘That is why we have taken the decisions that we have.’ 

A video posted on the No10 Twitter feed yesterday shows Mr Johnson chatting with Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries.

Mr Johnson said: ‘It’s noticeable that there are some countries where they have banned big sporting events and stopped mass gatherings of one kind or another. Tell us why so far the medical advice in this country is not to do that?’

Dr Harries replied that ‘expert modellers’ had looked at what would happen with the virus. 

‘In general those sorts of events and big gatherings are not seen as something that is going to have a big effect. So we don’t want to disrupt people’s lives,’ she said.

The FTSE index of Britain’s leading companies fell 365 points or 6.22 per cent to 5,511 shortly after opening – its lowest level since February 2016.

The falls were in reaction to Mr Trump’s intervention, and came despite the Bank of England slashing interest rates from 0.75 per cent to 0.25 per cent and the Budget plan. 

Tube and transport systems seemed quieter than usual as the public preempted the expected advice from government on restricting social contact

Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured on a visit to Leeds General Infirmary) said he made ‘no apology’ for turning on the spending taps to counter the effects of the virus on the UK economy and society

Norway goes into lock-down over coronavirus despite no deaths so far

Norway’s government announced its most complete peacetime shutdown in a bid to keep coronavirus at bay.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg ‘the strongest and most intrusive measures’ seen outside of war would take effect from this evening.

The strict measures included closing schools and universities and banning sporting events.

Health workers have been banned from going abroad and all other citizens have been advised not to. 

‘The measures will have a significant effect on our individual freedoms,’ Ms Solberg said. 

Norway has so far had 621 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with no deaths. 

Cultural events will be cancelled and Norwegians were asked to avoid public transport and work from home.

Bars, public swimming pools, gyms, hairdressers, massage and tattoo parlours, among others will be closed.

Restaurants need to ensure that guests are able to keep a minimum distance of one metre from each other and can no longer serve buffets.

In addition, the government said all people returning from trips outside the Nordic region must be quarantined for two weeks.

Most of the measures introduced will remain in place until March 26 to start with, health minister Bent Hoie said.

Speaking before Mr Trump’s speech last night, Mr Johnson said: ‘There’s obviously people under a lot pf pressure – politicians government around the world under a lot of pressure to be seen to act. So they may do things that are not necessarily dictated by the science.’

Dr Harries said: ‘I am absolutely delighted that we are following the science and the evidence.’ 

She added: ‘We have got very clear advice about when we should intervene and that is exactly what I think we should do.’ 

Mr Sunak admitted yesterday that the epidemic was now likely to cause ‘temporary disruption to the economy’, with millions of workers having to take time off sick, firms struggling with supply problems and shops and restaurants hit by a dramatic fall in trade.

‘The combination of those effects will have a significant impact on the UK economy,’ he said. ‘But it will be temporary. People will return to work.

‘Supply chains will return to normal. Life will return to normal. For a period, it’s going to be tough. But I’m confident that our economic performance will recover.’

The emergency package, which was only finalised in the early hours of yesterday, overshadowed a series of massive spending decisions that set the Government’s economic course for the next four years.

Mr Sunak pledged to increase total spending by 22 per cent by 2024, taking the size of the state to more than £1trillion for the first time. 

Much of the spending will be fuelled by borrowing, with the national debt now on track to top £2trillion by the time of the next election.

There will be a rise in the threshold for paying national insurance that delivers an immediate £100 tax cut for 31million workers. 

The OBR yesterday warned that the coronavirus could lead to a prolonged slowdown, adding: ‘Recession this year is quite possible if the spread of coronavirus causes widespread economic disruption.’ 

Mr Sunak said he was ready to make further interventions to ensure that good businesses were not driven to the wall.

He said yesterday’s £30billion package comprised £12billion of direct spending and £18billion of broader stimulus to the economy.

‘While the world may slow down, we will act here with a response that is brave and bold, taking decisions now for our future prosperity,’ the Chancellor added. ‘We are investing in world class infrastructure, and to lead the world in the industries and technologies of the future.’

Mr Sunak said the ‘central decision’ was to increase spending over existing plans by £175billion.

The overall tax burden will not rise, mainly because of a decision to abandon a cut in corporation tax. The Treasury admitted the spending might not meet earlier fiscal rules.

Some senior Tories voiced reservations. Theresa May said the Conservatives must never fall into Labour’s trap of believing that all problems could be fixed by unconstrained spending.

The former prime minister added: ‘While spending a lot of money may be popular and may seem the natural thing to do, there is of course that necessity of having a realistic assessment of the longer-term impact.

‘[There is] a necessity to ensure that we have that restraint and caution that enables us to make sure the public finances continue to be strong into the future.’

MPs could get an early Easter as at least ten go into self-isolation after health minister Nadine Dorries tested positive for the virus 

The Houses of Parliament could shut down for Easter a week early to combat the spread of coronavirus.

At least ten MPs last night were believed to be self-isolating over fears they have the virus after health minister Nadine Dorries tested positive.

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg yesterday insisted it is of ‘fundamental importance that we keep’ Parliament open.

At least ten MPs last night were believed to be self-isolating over fears they have the virus after health minister Nadine Dorries (pictured) tested positive

But the Daily Mail understands parliamentary officials are preparing to bring forward the Easter recess.

MPs are due to leave Westminster on March 31, but contingency plans have been drawn up that would see them go a week earlier.

Under one proposal, Parliament would stop sitting as soon as emergency legislation to deal with the virus has been passed. Visitors could be prevented from entering Parliament from as soon as this weekend.

Commons clerks have been told they will start working on rotation – with three weeks on and three weeks off – in a bid to keep Parliament operational following the Easter break.

Last night it emerged that a Cabinet minister who is self-isolating attended an emergency Cobra meeting with the Prime Minister.

And Andrew Bridgen yesterday became the latest MP to confirm they are self-isolating.

The Conservative member for North West Leicestershire made the decision after having lunch with Miss Dorries in the House of Commons tea room last week.The backbencher is now awaiting a test for coronavirus. He said: ‘I have a cough and a cold but I am working via Skype and the telephone.’

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg yesterday insisted it is of ‘fundamental importance that we keep’ Parliament open

Other MPs in self-isolation include health minister Edward Argar and shadow minister Rachael Maskell.

Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs in the Commons yesterday that Parliament will remain open and must ‘go ahead at the same pace as the rest of the country’ when it comes to responding to the outbreak.

He indicated that emergency legislation could be brought forward on Monday 23 March, subject to talks between Labour and the Tories.

Mr Rees-Mogg said: ‘It is of fundamental importance that we keep this place open.

‘But it is also important that we are treated and we treat ourselves in the same way as the rest of the country, and that we go ahead at the same pace as the rest of the country.

‘There should not be a difference in how Parliament is behaving from the advice that is being given to our constituents and I think that is important – we shouldn’t try and seek to be a special case for ourselves.’

Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin urged the Government and parliamentary authorities to ‘keep the show on the road’ by keeping Parliament open.

He said: ‘Doesn’t that set the best possible example to the rest of the country that we should keep things going and remain calm?’

By John Stevens and Claire Ellicott 

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