Government sets out four-step action plan to fight UK spread of coronavirus

The government has outlined its four-step action plan to handle the spread of coronavirus, with the virus more likely than not to significantly affect the UK population.

Included in the package of measures are a set of delaying tactics which may see up to a fifth of the UK workforce absent from work during ‘peak weeks’ of the outbreak, according to the prime minister Boris Johnson.

Millions of workers across the UK could be asked to work from home for an extended period of time as part of a ‘social distancing strategy’ that may be enforced if and when the spread of COVID-19 in the UK accelerates.

These tactics may also include discouraging unnecessary travel in efforts to delay the spread of the virus to later this year, where warmer conditions are expected to serve much better in fighting infection.

The measures are part of a four-stage action plan that aims to contain the virus, delay its spread, research its origin and treatment, as well as mitigate the effects of any prospective nationwide pandemic.

“Our plan means we’re committed to doing everything possible, based on the advice of our world-leading scientific experts to prepare for all eventualities,” the prime minister Boris Johnson said at a press conference.

“Let’s not forget, we already have a fantastic NHS, fantastic testing systems, and fantastic surveillance of the spread of the disease.

“The plan does not set out what the government will do, it sets out the steps that we could take, at the right time, and on the basis of the scientific advice. Our country remains extremely well prepared, as it has been since the outbreak began in Wuhan several months ago.

“But at this stage, and with the exception of all the points I have just mentioned, I want to stress that for the vast majority of the people of this country we should be going about our business as usual.”

The prime minister stressed the plan would only be enforced when appropriate because, beyond causing massive disruption to economic activity and people’s day-to-day lives, it’ll be ineffective in slowing the virus at this early stage.

The plan will only work to delay the spread of coronavirus when it approaches its peak infection rate in the UK, which could see up to 80% of the population affected under the worst-case scenario. This would be attached with an expected 1% death rate of those who are infected.

Medical experts expect the virus to begin to peak in the UK approximately two-to-three months following the first human transmission, and then begin to wain a further two-to-three months later.

As part of the government’s modelling, up to a fifth of the UK workforce may be absent from the workplace during peak weeks of the spread of the virus, although this may vary for individual businesses.

As a result, this extended work from home period could realistically last up to 12 weeks. Although this may have once caused massive disruption to businesses across the country, the rise of cloud-powered tools and software in recent years means there will be little difference for a host of office-based workers.

There are also a number of measures designed to help businesses which may face short-term disruption, including HMRC-led mitigation for cash flow, offered on a case-by-case basis.

Businesses are also advised to build their own resilience by reviewing their business continuity plans, which should bee based on the government’s advice for employers.

Otherwise, the health secretary Matt Hancock has reportedly spoken to social media companies including Facebook and Twitter about the spread of fake news on their platforms about COVID-19.

The prime minister reiterated that all media outlets, including social and online media platforms, bear responsibility in ensuring the information they host is accurate.

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.