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Minister warns on measures

Coronavirus in Scotland as UK cities and arenas face closure

Matt Hancock: all options are being considered

Scotland has confirmed its first coronavirus patient, raising Britain’s infection toll to 36.

A man from Tayside recently returned from northern Italy which is battling the second largest outbreak outside China.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who will join the Prime Minister’s Cobra team to consider plans to tackle the virus, said: “Scotland is well-prepared for a significant outbreak of coronavirus but there is currently no treatment or vaccine.”

The first case in Scotland comes after a number of rugby fans are believed to have travelled from Rome to Milan in northern Italy before returning to the UK. One source told Daily Business he had heard of one fan who had self-isolated on his return home.

Britain has not ruled out isolating towns and cities and closing sports stadiums to tackle the global coronavirus epidemic, health minister Matt Hancock said.

It may see access to football grounds, concert halls and other large gathering places denied or severely restricted. Sports events around the world, from football in Italy to sumo wrestling and baseball in Japan are going ahead in empty stadiums.

Mr Hancock said Britain may, in the worst case scenario, be forced to follow the example of the Chinese authorities which put the Hubei province into lockdown.

Speaking in television interviews, Mr Hancock also confirmed that the NHS would consider bringing doctors out of retirement if health staff were infected. Employees may be encouraged to work from home.

Asked if the government would cut off a city in this country to contain the virus, he said: “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’ve got to make sure that you have all the tools available, if that is what’s necessary. But I want to minimise the social and economic disruption.”

He added: “It may be necessary to close some schools, but right now, people should not be closing schools if there isn’t a positive case.”

The government is monitoring measures taken elsewhere such as France which is banning public gatherings of more than 5,000 people.

Mr Hancock said: “We are looking at all those sorts of things. We do not rule them out. But there also a problem if you make decisions like that too early. The top priority is to keep people safe, but we also want to minimise the social and economic consequences.”

Asked if banning football events or discouraging people using public transport was being considered, he said: “We are looking at all options, including those.”

But he noted that stopping all flights from China, as pushed by some, had not proved successful for Italy, which is the worst affected country in Europe.

Regarding the impact on the NHS, Mr Hancock confirmed that non-emergency surgery, including hip and knee replacements, may be cancelled.

He said: “I don’t want to do that. But these have to be clinical decisions. Clinicians have to make decisions about what is the most important and effective use of NHS resources. They do this all the time.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the government’s emergency response committee on Monday, signalling a stepping up of Britain’s preparation for the epidemic is estimated to have killed almost 3,000 people worldwide.

Mr Hancock said the issue will become a standing item for all cabinet meetings and there will be more media briefings from health officials.

The government is launching a new public information campaign this week, encouraging people to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, and to do so more often than normal.

The Scottish government has announced it will jointly publish an updated action plan with the UK government, as well as the Welsh and Northern Ireland administrations, outlining the steps that will be taken to manage coronavirus if there is a prolonged epidemic.

Stock markets last week suffered the third biggest weekly fall after the 1987 crash and the financial crisis in 2008, but took some comfort from overnight promises of government stimulus.

(Update 2 March) Shares in London followed Asia’s lead and opened higher, clawing back some of last week’s losses.

In the first few minutes of trade, the FTSE 100 was up 97.56 points, or 1.5%, at 6,678.17.

The FTSE 250 climbed 411.66 points, or 2.1%.

Share prices in Asia rose after Japan’s central bank promised to help protect markets from the impact of the coronavirus.

On Friday the US Federal Reserve made a similar pledge to stop more big falls on the world’s financial markets.

On Monday morning Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 was 1.2% higher, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong was up by 0.8% and China’s Shanghai Composite was 3.1% higher.

Airlines have been among the biggest fallers on global stock markets. Emirates Group has offered its staff the option of taking voluntary paid or unpaid leave because of the coronavirus.

The global death toll has soared past 3,000 following a sudden spike in fatalities in Italy.

Five deaths were announced in Italy on Sunday, taking its death toll to 34 as infection continues to cripple the country’s northern regions.

Italy will introduce this week measures worth €3.6 billion (£3bn), or 0.2% of gross domestic product (GDP), to help the economy withstand the crisis, said Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri.

The government has erected police checkpoints around 11 contaminated towns. However, cases across Europe have been traced back to Italy. 

Of the 12 new patients announced in the UK, two had recently arrived from Italy.

The number of people infected with COVID-19 in Germany has jumped sharply to 129. 

The deadly virus has now reached nine of Germany’s 16 states, with Frankfurt, Hamburg and Bremen among the cities reporting their first case. 

The Louvre in Paris was forced to close on Sunday because staff refused to work amid coronavirus fears, AFP reports.

Around 300 staff met in the morning and voted “almost unanimously” not to open.

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