UK government's coronavirus action plan: the key points explained, from school closures to public transport and quarantine

The government has revealed its action plan to deal with the coronavirus should a major breakout occur within the UK.

The government may take more drastic action should the UK experience a serious coronavirus outbreak.  Picture: Jane Barlow-Pool/Getty Images
The government may take more drastic action should the UK experience a serious coronavirus outbreak. Picture: Jane Barlow-Pool/Getty Images

The main focus at the moment is on a public information campaign which mostly revolves around thorough hand-washing and other basic hygiene practices, as well as information on what symptoms to watch out for and what to do in the event of them appearing.

However, we could see more drastic action taken if the number of cases in the UK were to rapidly increase.

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Here’s what the government’s plan might involve.

Large events, like football matches, could be cancelled or held behind closed doors if the virus spreads. Picture: Alex Pantling/Getty Images

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School closures

Schools have already been closed in countries like Japan and Italy where the scale of the outbreak has been far greater.

Keeping children home is seen as an effective way to prevent the virus from being transferred between households.

Obviously, closing schools would have major consequences beyond the disruption of pupils’ lives – working parents around the country would be forced to either find childcare or stay home from work themselves, creating a ripple effect across the economy.

With this in mind, the government is also prepared to offer support for businesses facing “short-term cash flow” problems as a result of the virus.

The UK government is also looking into the possibility of passing a law to increase the maximum class size permitted. This could be necessary if schools remain open but the virus reduces the number of available teachers.

New legislation could also allow teachers and pupils to be transferred more freely between schools, should the situation require it.

Banning large gatherings

Events designed to draw large crowds have also been cancelled in some of the worst affected parts of the world.

Sporting events across Asia have been postponed, relocated and cancelled and the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo now also looks to be in doubt.

Similarly, Six Nations fixtures and football matches involving Italy have been rearranged.

Given that it is impossible to stop all social contact, this measure would most likely be undertaken only in cases of local outbreaks as a means of slowing the spread.

Should the situation within the UK worsen, it is likely that many large-scale events will be shut down voluntarily without the government having to intervene.

Restricting public transport

In a further effort to contain the spread of the virus, the government may ask the public to reduce their travel as much as possible.

This would see businesses encouraged to allow as much home working as possible.

Again, there is no reasonable possibility of cutting off social contact completely so this would likely be part of the government’s “delay” strategy which aims to postpone any serious outbreaks until the warmer months when the emergency services will be under less strain.

Using the armed forces to support the emergency services

If requested, the Ministry of Defence has been made ready to provide support to Civil Authorities. Such support has been provided in the past, with the army stepping in during the firefighters’ strike in 2002.

This could become necessary if the coronavirus leads to serious staff shortages, leaving the emergency services unable to fulfil their roles without further support.

It is also possible that, should the police be left short-handed by the illness, they will be directed to “concentrate on responding to serious crimes and maintaining public order” until such a time as staffing levels can return to normal.

Health professionals who have recently retired may also be called back into action via an “emergency registration”.

Placing areas under quarantine

The most drastic solution, which has already been utilised in parts of China as well as closer to home. Italy placed 10 northern towns under lockdown in an attempt to stop the virus spreading down through the rest of the country.

It is possible that, should the virus reach a crisis point in the UK, the government will request extra powers that would allow them to legally enforce quarantines.

It is worth noting that any new powers the UK government were to gain to help combat the disease would be strictly temporary – they would be removed either after a predetermined point or once medical experts declared them no longer necessary.