London: Britain is planning for the global coronavirus epidemic to get worse, health minister Matt Hancock said on Sunday, describing the outbreak as a "very, very significant challenge".
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the government's emergency response committee on Monday, signalling a stepping up of Britain's preparation for the epidemic which began in China, where authorities estimate it has killed almost 3,000 people worldwide.
"We've got a clear strategy for dealing with coronavirus - a very, very significant challenge," Hancock told Sky News.
"We're also planning in case this gets worse, much worse." If the virus becomes more widespread, the government will look at registering retired health workers to work again, and whether encouraging people to work at home could delay its peak until summer when it can be more easily dealt with.
Britain currently has 23 confirmed coronavirus cases, and Hancock said on Sunday it was still in a containment phase. The issue will become a standing item for all cabinet meetings and there will be more media briefings from health officials.
Johnson wrote in the Sun newspaper that it was right to be concerned about the possible spread of the virus, but said a visit to a British hospital had left him "100 per cent confident in the medical resilience" The government is launching a new public information campaign this week, encouraging people to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, and to do so more often than normal.