COVID-19: BAU for now, as govt and businesses ready plans

The government has today published its official coronavirus action plan. With the current focus on containing the spread, the next stage of the plan involves delaying the outbreak until warmer months to avoid overlapping with seasonal flu and other winter pressures on the NHS. It then may also ask businesses to consider more home working and discourage unnecessary travel as part of a ‘social distancing’ strategy to delay the peak of the outbreak.

In the meantime, it is business as usual for the vast majority.

Introducing the plan at Downing Street this morning, Prime Minister Boris Johnson sought to quell fears around the outbreak. Keeping the country safe, he said, was the government’s overriding priority and that it was preparing for "all eventualities".

Acknowledging concern about the global spread of this virus, and the likelihood that the UK will see a growing number of cases, he added that for the overwhelming majority of people who contract the virus, the disease would be mild and most people would speedily and fully recover, as has already been seen.

"The plan does not set out what the government will do, it sets out the steps we could take at the right time along the basis of the scientific advice," he said, adding that the best piece of advice people could take was to maintain basic standards of hygeine through the washing of hands.

"I want to stress that for the vast majority of the people of this country, we should be going about our business as usual."

These plans were signed off at COBR this week -- meetings which will be stepped up if the virus escalates.

What if the outbreak becomes a pandemic?

The coronavirus outbreak has not in fact been declared a pandemic, though businesses are already engaging crisis management and pandemic planning as a precaution.

If the virus spreads to pandemic levels, the government has said actions could include police, fire and rescue services to carrying out business continuity plans in response to staff shortages; support for businesses facing short-term cash flow issues because of the virus to minimise impact on the economy; and emergency registration of health professionals who have recently retired.

The government may also consider introducing emergency indemnity coverage for health care workers to provide care or diagnostic services and relaxation of rules around staff to pupil ratios in education and childcare settings.

Each government department would also have a ministerial lead on the virus to help oversee government response.

Simplest methods for protection

The government has so far invested over £40 million in research to find a vaccine. Health Secretary, Matt Hancock said the government was taking all possible steps to contain this virus and that they will remain driven by and grounded in science.

"We have always said this outbreak could worsen before it gets better. Today’s battle plans, backed by our world-leading infectious disease experts, set out what actions the public can expect from government now and if the virus does progress. Protecting the most vulnerable is our absolute priority," he added. "We all have a role to play in combatting this threat and I urge everyone to take stock of the simple methods that offer the best protection.

"Right now, this means making sure you are washing your hands properly and regularly and always following the most current public health and travel advice as it develops. This advice will evolve as the situation changes, and we are committed to making sure the public always has the most up-to-date advice they need."

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