The UK government has outlined new measures to control the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus as the number of cases reported reaches 40.
It said a fifth of the workforce could be off sick and the government has urged people to work from home if possible.
The Ministry of Defence would provide support to the civilian authorities if requested.
It looks like panic buying has started in the supermarkets. I have just got back from Asda and the shelves of long life items like rice and dried pasta were almost bare. Well done newspapers for starting a food run! 🤦🏻♂️ #CoronaVirus— Andrew Roberts 💬🇪🇺 (@AndyMRoberts) March 3, 2020
Asked about the possibility of staff shortages in the police force, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "The army is of course always ready to backfill as and when, but that is under a reasonable worst case scenario."
Mr Johnson’s government has said it was considering closing some schools, cancelling sporting events and curbing travel on public transport.
The whole government is working closely together to tackle COVID-19. We are taking firm action to support your families, your businesses and the public services on which you rely.— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) March 3, 2020
We can all help fight this virus by washing our hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. pic.twitter.com/9q6CJeKKLa
Mr Johnson told reporters it would be “business as usual” for “the vast majority of people”.
He said: "I fully understand public concern about the global spread of the virus and it is highly likely we will see a growing number of UK cases. Keeping the UK safe is the government’s overriding priority. We will make sure the NHS gets all the support it needs. Our country remains extremely well prepared as it has been since the outbreak began several months ago.”
The coronavirus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December, has spread around the world with 90,000 cases globally and infections in 77 countries, the latest of which has been Ukraine.
The vast majority of the deaths - 2,943 - have been in China but there have been 75 deaths outside of Chinese borders and a worrying spike in cases in Iran and Italy.
Mr Johnson chaired a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, 3 March, before announcing a coronavirus battle plan.
At the forefront of the plan was a strategy of “social distancing” which would involve people working from home, not travelling unnecessarily or socialising in large numbers.
The National Police Chiefs' Council lead for civil contingencies, Deputy Chief Constable Paul Netherton, said: "If required, we have tried and tested plans that ensure continuity of policing during times of capacity issues or increased demand. These plans can include moving officers around the country, changing shift patterns and the use of the Special Constabulary."
The new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has been told to redraft his Budget - due to be announced on 11 March - in order to focus on combating the coronavirus and alleviating the burden on businesses which are due to suffer as a result of the reduced footfall.
Not to burst anyone’s bubble but the coronavirus is basically just the flu. The flu kills hundreds and hundreds of people worldwide every year yet no one bats an eyelid. Now people are mass buying things and causing mass hysteria and panic everywhere when there doesn’t need to be— ᴋɪʜʏᴜɴ's ᴋғᴄ ʙᴜᴄᴋᴇᴛ (@squishykih) March 3, 2020
Retailers, publicans, cinema owners and transport companies are all expecting to face a major hit if people heed warnings and stay at home.
But the social media reaction suggests that many people in Britain believe the coronavirus has triggered an over-reaction.
Many Twitter users have pointed out that more people have died from influenza than COVID-19 and have highlighted the fact that the illness is only believed to be fatal for the elderly or those with underlying health problems.
#Coronavirus has killed 3000 people this year. More people die of snake bites every month. Why are we being encouraged to panic about this? Why is this the breaking news, and not #Erdogan trying to start a war with #Syria? Or the #AssangeHearing?— OffGuardian (@OffGuardian0) March 2, 2020
On Monday Mr Johnson said it was likely there would be a “very significant expansion” of the virus across Europe in the next few days.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC on Tuesday: “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.”
Among events which could be under threat are next week’s English Premier League fixtures.
Coronavirus: UK police investigating 'racially motivated' attack on Singaporean student in London, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times https://t.co/Zq88tofdZt— Amar (@amarshat) March 3, 2020
The media-driven hysteria has also led to a number of racist incidents against people from East Asia.
The Metropolitan Police are investigating a racially motivated assault on a Singaporean student, Jonathan Mok, 23, in London.
Mr Mok recounted on Facebook how he was punched in the face by a youth who said: "I don’t want your coronavirus in my country."
UEFA isn't immune from coronavirus. Gags y'day re not shaking hands w/ Italians but Gianni Infantino channelled Dad's Army today: don't panic. Too late 4 Swiss FA? Its boss says it "could shake game's foundations". UEFA says it's set up a working group to tackle fixture pile-up.— Matt Slater (@mjshrimper) March 3, 2020