UK officials might have to consider postponing this year’s London Marathon to stop the further spread of coronavirus, said the health secretary.
Matt Hancock said officials are looking into restricting participation in the marathon next month, which is the largest mass-participation sporting event in the world, over the ‘serious possibility’ of Covid-19 becoming a ‘pandemic’. However, the health secretary added it was ‘far too early’ to make any decisions.
The 26.2 mile race is currently still scheduled to take place on April 26 and attracts around 1 million spectators across the capital, which officials worry is a hotbed for the virus spreading.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast this morning, the health secretary told of the government’s battle plan – unveiled later today – to contain the virus, which has so far infected 39 people in the UK.
Mr Hancock said although officials are not currently planning to axe major events and close schools, emergency legislation could be introduced to do so, should the outbreak turn into a national crisis.
He said: ‘Right now, we do not recommend the cancelling of mass events and schools as well should not be closing unless there is a positive case and the schools have the advice to close.
‘There maybe things we have to do down the line that we don’t want to, but we will need the powers to do that hence proposing emergency legislation’.
Hugh Brasher, events director at the London Marathon, said in a statement: ‘We are monitoring closely the developments relating to the spread of coronavirus and noting the updates and advice given by the UK Government, the World Health Organisation and other UK public bodies.
‘With just under eight weeks to go before the event on Sunday 26 April, we will continue to monitor the situation.’
Should the virus become a major outbreak in the UK, Mr Hancock said he was more than confident the NHS would be able to cope with the added pressure.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘A lot of people, not least because it is mild, will be best off at home than in hospital so we are expanding the number of home ventilation kits that are available so that can be done.
‘The NHS, of course, has a full plan for this and prepares for this even when there isn’t an outbreak.
‘Inevitably in the case of this becoming widespread of course there will be much more pressure on the NHS, but the NHS is prepared for this sort of challenge.’
He added that production of home ventilation kits was being ramped up to ensure people are tested as early as possible, adding that for ‘most people who catch this virus, it’s relatively mild, and a bad cough’.
Mr Hancock said scientists were not calling for an end to handshaking, adding medical advice says the impact of the gesture is ‘negligible’, but insisted people should wash their hands more often.
The minister also said UK Border Force will be given extra powers at airports if travellers are showing symptoms of the virus, while people who are sick but do not self-isolate will be arrested by police.
He said: ‘At the moment if somebody is suspected of having coronavirus we can ask them to self isolate and if they don’t a police man can make that happen. We want to extend those powers to the border force as well’.
Legislation allowing the Government to use extra powers to help control Covid-19 is expected to go through Parliament by the end of the month.
The health secretary’s comments come as the government is set to unveil its so-called ‘battle plan’ later on Tuesday.
The plan is expected to include a ‘war room’ for communications experts and scientists to co-ordinate a public information campaign.
It is also likely that people will be discouraged from unnecessary travel and workers could be told to work from home where possible.
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