The Prime Minister is set to announce the Government response will officially move from the “contain” phase to the “delay” stage at a COBRA meeting on Thursday.
Experts hope the switch will help delay a steep rise in cases until the late spring or summer, when the NHS will be under less pressure and the annual winter surge in demand eases.
In an emergency statement to the Commons last night, Health secretary Matt Hancock said the British coronavirus death toll had reached eight, with 456 people testing positive for the disease.
Mr Hancock said cases were not expected to peak for several months, warning: “This is a marathon not a sprint.”
The latest victims were a patient in their 70s being treated for underlying health conditions in Dudley, West Mids, and an elderly patient being treated for “a number of serious, underlying health conditions” in Warwickshire.
The Health Secretary also insisted Westminster would resist a shutdown, telling the Commons: “We have resolved that we will keep Parliament open.
“Of course in some ways this House may have to function differently, but the ability to hold the Government to account and to legislate are as vital in a time of emergency as in all times.
“Our democracy is the foundation of our way of life.”
Mr Hancock said that the COBRA meeting would discuss next steps for the UK in light of the declaration of a pandemic by the World Health Organisaton in a response to this predecessor.
Conservative former health secretary Jeremy Hunt asked whether the Secretary of State thought the UK could "contain the virus in this country and if not, whether he expects to move to the delay phase very soon so that families up and down the country can start to prepare their loved ones for any precautions that they might want to take."
Mr Hancock said: "Of course the World Health Organisation this afternoon declaring that this is globally now regarded as a pandemic does indicate that they think that this virus will spread right across the world and that has a significant impact on the way that countries around the world will now take forward their plans.
"Of course, this is all within the plan that we set out in expectation that this may well happen and we'll be discussing that at Cobra tomorrow."
He said: "Of course, this is all within the plan that we set out in expectation that this may well happen and we'll be discussing that at Cobra tomorrow."
Mr Hancock will also hold discussions with the opposition on the contents of legislation
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