BRITAIN has been warned to “be prepared” for “widespread infection” of the coronavirus as the number of people affected by the potentially fatal disease jumped to 36 over the weekend.
Cases of COVID-19 have now been confirmed across England, with the infected found in London, Essex, Surrey, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Berkshire, West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.
There have also now been single cases confirmed in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and in the Republic.
Regarding the situation facing Britain, Professor Paul Cosford, of Public Health England (PHE), said today: “The increase we have seen in numbers of people affected in this country and in other countries in Europe and in South East Asia does make it seem likely now in due course that we will see widespread transmission in the UK, what we don’t know exactly is how widespread that will be.
‘All of our efforts at the moment are to identify anybody who has got the illness, identifying their contacts and isolating them and doing what we can to reduce the spread of infection.”
Making the statement in an interview with BBC Breakfast, he added: “Widespread infection is now highly likely, and we have to be prepared, we have to be prepared for a range of eventualities.”
Advising that “we all have a part to play” in tackling the outbreak, Mr Cosford explained: “All of us have a part to play in reducing the spread of this infection, reducing the intensity of it.
“The phase we are in at the moment is containment - we are trying to identify everybody to avoid any spread from those infections.
“Then we move into a phase where we try to delay the more widespread infection, make sure the peak of that infection is as low as possible.
“During that period of course anybody who feels unwell should self-isolate and at the moment identify and phone NHS 111 if you have been in one of the countries of concern and take advise form there.
“We also should avoid, if we have respiratory illnesses, going out, we should stay home so we don’t spread that to other people, making people more vulnerable to infection.”
The coronavirus death toll has now risen to more than 3,000.
More than 90 per cent of the total fatalities are in Hubei, the Chinese province where the virus emerged late last year.
Risk levels are currently deemed low in Ireland, where the first coronavirus case was recorded on Saturday, March 1.
According to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, the infected man, who is from the eastern part of the country, is currently receiving medical care in line with appropriate infection prevention measures.
Ireland’s Department for Health went on to confirm that he had travelled to Ireland from an affected area in northern Italy.
Authorities are keen to stress he did not catch the virus through contact with any other confirmed case on the island of Ireland.
A Dublin school connected to the case has since been closed for two weeks on infection control grounds.
The Republic’s first case came just three days after a woman in Northern Ireland tested positive for coronavirus.
She had returned to Northern Ireland from Italy, travelling via Dublin Airport.
The spread of the disease now leaves public events under threat across Britain and Ireland.
Ireland’s Six Nations rugby clash with Italy in Dublin on March 7 was cancelled due to the health risks posed by the fixture.
Now Dublin’s annual St Patrick’s Day Festival has been thrown into doubt, with organisers claiming they will continue to “follow advice” over the festivities, which are due to begin on March 13 and run through to March 17.
A statement from the Festival said: “St. Patrick’s Festival is monitoring the situation regarding COVID-19 and will continue to do so.
“We follow the advice and direction of relevant authorities in all matters of public safety.”
Similar questions have been raised about the annual Cheltenham Festival, which starts on March 10.
While the British Horseracing Authority claimed there was "no need to develop a policy" relating to cancelling fixtures, they added: "The industry group continues to liaise closely with government and plan for a range of contingencies.”