The UK government has refused to rule out cutting off entire cities if Britain enters a worst-case scenario of Coronavirus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said "we don't take anything off the table" as the global death toll neared 3,000 – including one Brit on a cruise ship in Japan.
The Tory Cabinet minister, who is setting up a "war room" and passing emergency laws, warned scientists have said it is "inevitable" that the virus will become endemic in society.
If that happens, he said, in a worst case scenario the UK may need “significant actions” that would have “social and economic disruption” – which could include closing some schools with a specific risk and pulling ex-doctors out of retirement.
Football events and concerts could also be banned, and people could be urged against using public transport. He told the BBC: "We're looking at all options, including those". However, he added there was also a risk of taking such actions too early.
BBC interviewer Andrew Marr asked Mr Hancock directly: "China of course isolated entire cities. is it conceivable under any circumstance that you’d try to cut off a city in this country?"
The Health Secretary replied: "There's clearly a huge economic and social downside to that, but we don't take anything off the table at this stage – because you have got to make sure you have all the tools available if that is what’s necessary.
“But I want to minimise the social and economic disruption, and at this stage we still have the hope – although the numbers elsewhere are rising fast – that we might be able to avoid this outcome.”
Mr Hancock stressed that, with only 23 cases confirmed in the UK, "right now people should not be closing schools".
Asked about a possible ban on large public gatherings, he said: “We are looking at all those sorts of things, we do not rule them out, but there’s also a problem if we make decisions like that too early.”
Emergency powers could be used to enforce quarantine if patients resist, he told the BBC. "We have the power now to ensure they are so the police can assist us in doing that."
And stockpiles from no-deal Brexit plans are now being kept in case of a Coronavirus crisis in Britain, eh said. Mr Hancock said the country has 50 ventilators, and can ramp it up to 500 or 5,000 if needed.
People should ensure they catch a cough or sneeze in a tissue which is thrown away, or in the crook of their elbow, he said, as calls to NHS 111 shot up by more than 50% in the last week.
However, the Heath Secretary said “at this stage” people should “go about their ordinary business” and over-60s don’t need to avoid public transport – despite the Director-General of the World Health Organisation warning they should.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO chief, tweeted: "If you are 60+, or have an underlying condition like cardiovascular disease, a respiratory condition or diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing severe #COVID19.
"Try to avoid crowded areas, or places where you might interact with people who are sick."
Mr Hancock said at the moment, that is not the advice in the UK.
He added: “If we get to the position where this is endemic right around the world and large scale here then we will change the advice according to what the scientists advise.”
Mr Hancock said there was be a “balancing act” between controlling the spread of the outbreak in Britain and stopping a damaging economic spiral.
He said: “I want to minimise the risk to the public but we also want to minimise the social and economic disruption that will be inevitably caused, and we’ve already seen it this week, by a virus like this.”
He added: “It’s a balancing act where I place the greatest weight on keeping people safe. But there’s no point doing things that aren’t clinically effective. We have to be guided by the science here.”
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