Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Chris Whitty has warned that schools could be closed for more than two months in the event of the coronavirus ourbeak reaching pandemic proportions.
He warned that there could be a "social cost" if the virus intensifies resulting in a reduction of mass gatherings, which would see the closure of schools.
Pandemic could see closure of schools
Whitty, who is also Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government, said: "One of the things that’s really clear with this virus, much more so than flu, is that anything we do we’re going to have to do for quite a long period of time, probably more than two months.
“The implications of that are non-trivial, so we need to think that through carefully.
“This is something we face as really quite a serious problem for society potentially if this goes out of control. It may not but if it does globally then we may have to face that.”
Health Minister: 'we want to minimise social and economic disruption'
He added that the UK would not be exempt in the event of a global pandemic.
He said: "If this becomes a global epidemic then the UK will get it, and if it does not become a global epidemic the UK is perfectly capable of containing and getting rid of individual cases leading to onward transmission.
“If it is something which is containable, the UK can contain it. If it is not containable, it will be non-containable everywhere and then it is coming our way.”
Health Minister, Matt Hancock, reacted to the CMO's statement, saying "we do want to minimise social and economic disruption subject to keeping people safe" before conceding “of course that is always going to be a balance. We’re going to be led by the scientific advice into what works.”
What is a pandemic?
The WHO defines a pandemic as the worldwide spread of a new disease, across several countries or continents, affecting a large number of people.
A viral outbreak could be categorised as a pandemic if it is markedly different from recently circulating strains, and if humans have little or no immunity to it, according to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive.
As of Thursday 27 February, there have been a total of 82,393 confirmed cases of coronavirus across the globe, with the number of deaths in China now at 2,807.