Emergency laws allowing health and safety measures to be bypassed in order to keep the country running should the coronavirus outbreak worsen will be rushed in next week amid No10 fears of an economic meltdown, reports suggest.
Councils, schools and the public sector will be given powers to suspend laws restricting classroom sizes and limiting the legal number of working hours in order to keep classes and supply chains running, according to The Times.
Rumours of the plans – which could see military doctors drafted in to help NHS hospitals cope – emerged hours after the Department of Health (DoH) revealed the virus had been transmitted within the UK for the first time.
Downing Street is weighing up whether to attempt to minimise the disruption to the economy, or prioritise saving lives by imposing intrusive restrictions, The Times reported.
London’s FTSE 100 share index suffered its worst one-week fall since last decade’s financial crash as a result of the virus, with £210bn erased from the value of the country’s top companies.
The government’s urgent contingency plans came as Boris Johnson was urged by Labour rivals and former senior Tories to “get a grip” of the coronavirus situation.
Insisting the deadly outbreak was his “top priority” the prime minister on Friday announced he would chair an emergency Cobra meeting — but not for three days time.
Meanwhile, the first UK national died from the virus in Japan after becoming infected on the Diamond Princess cruise liner, which has seen more than 700 of its passengers contract the deadly virus.
The man who died was one of at least four British cruise ship passengers who were taken to hospital in Japan after testing positive for the virus, which has now killed six of the people who contracted it onboard the ship.
Sally Abel was cleared of the virus on Thursday, while her husband David appeared optimistic, saying in a video broadcast: “Even if I’m still positive it’s not the end of the world.”
On British soil, the DoH warned it “is highly likely that we will soon see some instances of community transmission”, as it emerged the UK’s 20th patient may have been infected by someone who had not recently travelled overseas.
Health authorities scrambled to discover the original source of the virus, lamenting it remained “unclear” as experts warned doing so was “crucial” in order to prevent a more extensive spread.
“This case — a person testing positive for novel coronavirus with no known link to an affected area or known case — marks a new chapter for the UK and it will be crucial to understand where the infection came from to try to prevent more extensive spread,” said Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham.