International News

Is Britain heading for a coronavirus lockdown?

Coronavirus chaos and confusion is gripping almost every part of British life today as schools defied the Government and closed, big businesses shut down and major sporting events were postponed because of the explosion of new cases in Europe.

Travellers to and from Britain are in limbo about whether they should cancel their business or holiday travel for fear of being exposed to the killer virus sweeping the globe, which has infected more than 81,000 people and killed almost 2,800.

Fears are intensifying over the spread of the killer virus because 12 people have died in Italy since Friday – while France reported another fatality today and Greece and North Macedonia became the latest countries to record cases as the infection toll on the continent surpassed 400.

Britain’s Foreign Office is yet to ban travel to coronavirus-hit countries – it only advises against all travel to Hubei, the Chinese province at the heart of the global crisis, and all but essential travel to mainland China and 10 towns locked down in the north of Italy.

Ireland’s rugby match against Italy on Saturday was postponed today amid fears Italian fans could bring the virus to Dublin – but England’s Six Nations fixture in Rome on March 14 is still going ahead. England’s FA is holding urgent talks today about whether it is safe to host Italy’s football team for a Wembley friendly on March 27.

With no restrictions on travel, it raises the prospect of tens of thousands of sports fans – and tourists – travelling between the UK and Europe’s coronavirus epicentre Italy. Ten countries, including Brazil and Algeria, have already confirmed cases of COVID-19 from travellers who returned home from Italy.

The global crisis is expected to continue through 2020 and millions of Britons with foreign holidays booked over the Easter break in April fear they will be unable to travel if it continues to spread at an extraordinary rate.

More than 160 British guests are already trapped in quarantine in a Tenerife hotel for the next two weeks after an Italian doctor staying there fell ill and today Jet2 suspended bookings to the Canary Islands hotel because of the outbreak.

Public Health England today refused to rule out the possibility of shutting down entire towns, communities and public transport if a coronavirus outbreak takes hold in the UK.

Only 13 cases have been confirmed on British soil currently – all of them have been linked to the Far East and nobody has caught the illness in the UK – but health chiefs have warned the public to expect more.

A China-style shutdown would force tens of millions to stay at home, including essential health workers such as doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said: ‘There’s no secret there’s a variety of things you need to look at, you look at things like school closures, you look at things like reducing transport.’

US oil company Chevron has sent home around 300 British staff from his London HQ after a worker came down with flu-like symptoms after a foreign trip.

Other companies based in the UK are also scrambling to find out if any of their staff could be carrying coronavirus with a 350,000 Britons estimated to have travelled to Italy and France alone over half term.

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