In Depth

Coronavirus: five key points from government’s ‘battle plan’

Emergency response could see NHS operations cancelled and the Army called in to maintain law and order

The UK government has published its so-called “battle plan” for tackling a mass coronavirus outbreak in the UK.

Launching the 28-page document at Downing Street on Tuesday morning, Boris Johnson said his government was making “every possible preparation” for an epidemic that experts say could see 80% of the public infected in a worst-case scenario.

At a news conference attended by England’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, the prime minister said he was committed to doing “everything possible” to “prepare for all eventualities”. The action plan document states that “we are all susceptible to catching this disease” and that “there could well be an increase in deaths”.

So what are the government’s five key tactics to try to keep citizens safe?

Contain, Delay, Research, Mitigate

The Government has divided up its response to the coronavirus outbreak into four separate phases: containment, delay, research and mitigation.

The first phase will see the authorities and NHS attempt to “detect early cases, follow up close contacts” and “prevent the disease taking hold in this country for as long as is reasonably possible”, before “slow[ing] the spread in this country, if it does take hold”, says the newly published plan.

If the number of cases increases significantly, the Government will boost its research efforts in order to “better understand the virus and the actions that will lessen its effect on the UK population” and take steps to “innovate responses including diagnostics, drugs and vaccines”.

People who are already ill will be provided with the “best care possible”, and hospitals will be supported “to maintain essential services” and ensure “ongoing support for people ill in the community to minimise the overall impact of the disease on society, public services and on the economy”.

NHS changes

The plan suggests that as many as 30 hospitals across the UK could set up designated wards to treat coronavirus patients, with routine treatments cancelled in the worst-case scenario of a mass outbreak.

According to the report, hospital discharges may be monitored going forward in order to free up the required number of beds, with appropriate care in people's homes.

“We will make sure the NHS gets all the support it needs,” Johnson said. “Our country remains extremely well prepared as it has been since the outbreak began several months ago.”

Army intervention

The Times reports that the Government believes police “may only be able to deal with the most serious crimes and public order because so many officers will be sick”.

That scenario could see the Armed Forces called in “to provide support to civil authorities”, says the government plan.

“The Army is of course always ready to backfill as and when, but that is under a reasonable worst-case scenario,” Johnson said.

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Tax mitigation

Amid growing fears about the effect of the outbreak on the economy, the Government also proposes giving business owners leeway on submitting their taxes if their companies are hit by the outbreak.

“For businesses facing short-term cash-flow issues (for example, as the result of subdued demand), an effective mitigation already exists in HMRC's Time To Pay system,” the plan says. “This is offered on a case-by-case basis if a firm or individual contacts HMRC about falling behind on their tax.”

Up to a fifth of the UK workforce could potentially off sick during the peak, the report adds.

Social distancing

In a worst-case scenario where millions appear to be at risk of infection, the government would seek to reduce contact between people as part of a so-called “social-distancing” strategy.

This could include enforcing school closures, encouraging more home working and reducing the number of large-scale gatherings - policies that have already been undertaken in other countries including Italy, South Korea and China.

A bill that would allow the Government to use extra powers to help control the virus is expected to go through Parliament by the end of the month, the BBC reports.

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