Government admits coronavirus crisis will not peak for 'months' as Boris Johnson issues fresh warning
Britain has been placed on red alert after the Government admitted the coronavirus outbreak will peak in "months rather than weeks".
Boris Johnson confirmed the crisis is “likely to become more significant for this country” before it gets any better.
The Prime Minister vowed that the Government was taking “every possible preparation” to combat the spread of the virus - but admitted it now “looks likely” that there will be an increasing number of cases of Covid-19 confirmed in the UK.
Within minutes, the Department of Health confirmed that the number of people diagnosed with the illness in the UK had risen to 40.
Speaking after he chaired a meeting of the Government’s Cobra crisis committee on Monday, Mr Johnson said: “I think it's very important to stress that this is a problem that I think is likely to become more significant for this country in the course of the next days and weeks.
“And, therefore, we've been making every possible preparation for that, and this country is very, very well prepared.”
He added: “We've got a fantastic NHS, we've got fantastic testing systems and amazing surveillance of the spread of disease.
“But we've also agreed a plan so that if and when it starts to spread - as I'm afraid it looks likely that it will - we are in a position to take the steps that will be necessary, will be reasonable, will be possible to contain the spread of the disease as far as we can. And also to protect the most vulnerable.”
The Prime Minister confirmed that the Government would announce its full coronavirus action plan on Tuesday, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock this weekend promising that no tactics will be "off the table" as ministers respond.
Emergency laws will also be introduced to cope with the impact of the virus on society, but a government source said they were unlikely to be needed until the end of the month.
"We don't want to have to take decisions before we have to," the source said. "As much as possible we want people to carry on with their daily lives."
Mr Hancock said the Government's strategy would include appointing a minister in every government department focused on tackling the virus - and he said it “may be necessary to close some schools and other population distancing measures” to combat its spread.
Mr Johnson’s latest warning came as he was criticised for excluding London mayor Sadiq Khan from Monday’s Cobra gathering of top officials and ministers.
A City Hall source told PoliticsHome: "People might feel it is a bit strange that he’s not invited given size of London, its status as a global travel hub, its large transport network and sports and entertainment venues."
Liberal Democrat London mayoral candidate Siobhan Benita said it was “outrageous” that London “is being sidelined”.
She added: “Of course the Mayor of London should have been included in today's Cobra meeting.
“One pressing question I'd wanted an answer to from the Government is - has it made an assessment of whether increasing the provision of hand sanitiser in crowded places like tube and train stations, airports, stadiums and other busy public spaces can reduce the spread of coronavirus. And if the evidence is there, then let's roll that out as soon as possible."
A total of 13,525 people have so far been tested for the coronavirus in the UK, with the vast majority testing negative.
Public Health England has said that most cases of coronavirus - now being referred to as COVID-19 - have appeared mild, with sympoms including coughing, sneezing and shortness of breath.
But officials are advising anyone who has returned from Iran, parts of Italy, South Korea or China's Hubei province in recent weeks to call NHS 111 and stay indoors.