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Health Secretary gives latest update on coronavirus

3 March 2020

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock has updated MPs on updated plans for the coronavirus epidemic after the Government released its action plan.

The Chinese city of Wuhan was the site of an outbreak of respiratory virus Covid-19. The virus has rapidly increased in parts of Asia, Europe and the Middle East in recent days, with the death toll rising in Iran, and infections in South Korea passing 1,200. The virus has now reached dozens of countries with Austria, Croatia and Switzerland the latest to declare cases.

The Government have said that up to a fifth of the workforce may be off sick during the peak of a coronavirus epidemic in the UK, according to its latest plans.  The number of UK cases has risen from 39 to 51.

Matt Hancock MP: "plan for the worst and work for the best"

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock updated the House on the Government's Coronavirus action plan. The Minister told the House that "The situation facing the country is increasingly serious. Globally and at home the number of cases continues to rise[…] it's becoming more likely that we'll see widespread transmission here in this country."

The Minister said:

"Our approach is to plan for the worst and work for the best. Yesterday I attended a COBRA meeting chaired by the Prime Minister in which we finalised our four part action plan - to contain, delay, research and mitigate the virus. This plan has been jointly agreed by the UK Government and the devolved administrations"

Jonathan Ashworth MP: "2 million workers […] don't even qualify for statutory sick pay"

Responding on behalf of the Opposition, Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Secretary of State for Health said that he endorses the Government's strategy to contain, then delay, research and then mitigate. However he expressed some concern on the subject of containment and self isolation, stating that "the Prime Minister said today, as indeed the Secretary of State has said before, workers who self isolate are considered to be on sick leave. Can he confirm that those who do need to self isolate will not therefore need to visit a GP to receive a sick note?"

The Shadow Minister added:

"2 million workers on low pay or insecure contracts in the gig economy don't even qualify for statutory sick pay. He will also know that those who are in receipt of benefits are often asked to physically attend appointments, so again, if they are asked to self isolate, can he guarantee that no financial sanction will be imposed?."

Image: PA

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