The government has set out an enhanced approach to pandemic preparation as confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK rise.
Today, Professor Paul Cosford, medical director of Public Health England, warned that the UK is set for more widespread infection of COVID-19, as the total number of positive cases in the UK reached 36, with Scotland declaring its first case.
Of those who have tested positive, one patient, resident in Essex, had no relevant travel and it is not yet clear whether they contracted it directly or indirectly from an individual who had recently returned from abroad. Investigations are ongoing.
Chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty has arrived at the cabinet office for an emergency COBR meeting.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has announced the following preparations:
- Every government department to have a designated ministerial virus lead to help oversee government response to the global threat of COVID-19
- Cross-government ‘war room’ of communications experts and scientists also set up ahead of public information blitz in coming weeks
- Further COBRs planned this week, with ministerial COBR meetings upgraded to be held more frequently, if required.
All four parts of the UK will work together against the potential of a COVID-19 epidemic in the UK, under the government’s new approach to pandemic preparation.
Every department will have a designated ministerial virus lead to help oversee the cross-government response to the outbreak.
Commenting, prime minister Boris Johnson, who is chairing today’s COBR meeting, said: “We must prepare for coronavirus and listen to the advice of the chief medical officer – especially about the importance of washing our hands with soap. We should be doing that for 20 seconds, and more often than we would normally think was necessary. This will make a real difference in stopping this virus spread. Coronavirus may very well be a challenge in the weeks and months ahead. But I have no doubt that with the help of the NHS and its incomparable staff this country will get through it – and beat it.”
Other government departments will increase their preparations as part of the comprehensive approach to COVID-19, which has been led so far by the Department of Health and Social Car working with NHS England and Public Health England.
The move comes as government prepares to jointly publish an updated action plan on the response of the health care system and the public to COVID-19 together with the governments in the devolved nations. The document, expected to be published later this week, will outline the steps government will take to manage COVID-19 if it there is a sustained UK epidemic. The plan will be based on the government’s existing contingency plans for responding to a pandemic flu outbreak, but has been adapted to take account of the differences between COVID-19 and pandemic influenza.
A campaign will launch this week, and will feature posters and social media adverts to reinforce the importance of hand-washing for 20 seconds or more with water and soap, to prevent the spread of the virus.
The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) is monitoring the situation . RCGP honorary secretary Jonathan Leach has convened a group, including representatives from the British Medical Association and Royal College of Nursing, to determine how COVID-19 will impact on general practice and look at developing practical resources to support GPs and their teams to manage the emerging situation.