The Government has published a COVID-19 Action Plan setting out how all four parts of the UK will take all necessary and reasonable steps to tackle the outbreak.

The plan has four strands. Containing the virus, delaying its spread, researching its origins and cure, and finally mitigating the impact should the virus become more widespread. 

These plans ensure the UK is equipped to deliver a coordinated multi agency response to minimise wider societal impact that could arise from a significant outbreak. It states that an effective response also requires the active participation of a well informed public and all service providers. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in a press conference today, said: "In the overwhelming majority of people who contract the virus, this will be a mild disease from which they will speedily and fully recover as we’ve already seen.

"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 plan does not set out what the government will do, it sets out the steps we could take at the right time along the basis of the scientific advice.

"But at this stage, and with the exception of all of 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."

If the COVID-19 outbreak worsens

In the event of the outbreak worsening, or a severe prolonged pandemic, the response will escalate, and the focus will move from Contain to Delay, through to Mitigate. During this phase the pressures on services and wider society may start to become significant and clearly noticeable.

To ensure that the health and social care system is prepared to respond to all eventualities, this might mean that other services are reduced temporarily. 

Publicity about the need for good hygiene measures (hand washing, and catch it, bin it, kill it) will be increased and there will be further promotion of the need for people with symptoms to stay at home for the full duration of their illness. 

Action that would be considered could include population distancing strategies (such as school closures, encouraging greater home working, reducing the number of large scale gatherings) to slow the spread of the disease throughout the population, whilst ensuring the country’s ability to continue to run as normally as possible. The UK governments' education departments' planning assumptions include the possibility of having to close educational settings in order to reduce the spread of infection. 

These measures would be in order to protect vulnerable individuals with underlying illnesses and thus at greater more at risk of becoming seriously affected by the disease. The effectiveness of these actions will need to be balanced against their impact on society.

New NHS 111 service

A new NHS 111 online service has been put in place to help people get quick advice about coronavirus, as enquiries to the health service about the outbreak have surged. More than 35,000 people used the site in a single day over the weekend to get help and advice.

The NHS in England is also ploughing an initial extra £1.7 million in to 111 to offer more clinical advice over the phone. The 111 service tells callers whether they require a test and helps to arrange one for those who need it.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “NHS staff are working round the clock to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. The public is also now benefitting from the new NHS 111 online service which is helping increase capacity and free up clinicians time by offering specific help and advice on coronavirus at the touch of a button and has already had more than 70,000 hits since launched on Wednesday."

In addition to the home diagnostic testing programme that is currently being rolled out in every part of the country, the NHS has introduced new, more convenient and efficient ways of testing such as the “drive-through” centre that has started operating in west London.