The global coronavirus outbreak is a pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO), has said, as eight people were confirmed to have died in the UK.
WHO director-general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus told reporters on Wednesday that the number of cases of Covid-19 outside China has increased 13-fold in the past two weeks, and the number of affected countries has tripled.
He said individual countries could still change the course of the virus through their actions, but said: “In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of Covid-19 cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries, climb even higher.
“WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.
“We have therefore made the assessment that Covid-19 can be characterised as a pandemic.”
It comes as two more deaths in the UK were announced on Wednesday, taking the total who have died in British hospitals to eight.
The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust said a patient in their 70s being treated for underlying health conditions had died after testing positive for Covid-19.
And the George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust in Warwickshire said an elderly patient, from Nuneaton, being treated for a number of serious underlying health conditions, had also died.
Earlier, a 53-year-old British woman was reported to have died from Covid-19 in Indonesia.
She was ill with other health conditions, including diabetes and lung disease, the Indonesian government said.
Another British man died in February after becoming infected on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.
Official figures on cases show that 460 people in the UK have now tested positive for coronavirus, with the largest day-on-day jump recorded, and cases more than doubling in just four days.
In other developments:
– A patient with an underlying illness became the first person in the Republic of Ireland to die after testing positive for the illness.
– NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens announced plans to “invite up to 18,000 third year undergraduate nurses to help out on the frontline” in the battle against coronavirus.
– England’s cricketers have been instructed not to sign autographs or pose for selfies with fans during their test tour of Sri Lanka, while Manchester City’s Premier League clash with Arsenal has been postponed as a “precautionary measure” over coronavirus fears.
– Public Health England (PHE) defended its decision not to test everyone with symptoms, saying it must focus on those at highest risk. The NHS intends to ramp up testing facilities
– Cambodian health authorities are testing people on a cruise boat docked in Kampong Cham, Cambodia, after a British passenger was reported to be infected with Covid-19. The vessel had sailed from Vietnam.
– British nationals from the Grand Princess cruise ship in the port of Oakland, California, landed in Birmingham on Wednesday and are being asked to go into self-isolation.
– The Bank of England announced an emergency cut in interest rates from 0.75% to 0.25% in response to the economic impact of coronavirus.
Earlier, Chancellor Rishi Sunak set out plans for the health service in his Budget and pledged security and support for those who are sick and unable to work due to the spread of Covid-19.
Mr Sunak said: “Whatever extra resources our NHS needs to cope with coronavirus it will get – whether it’s millions of pounds or billions of pounds, whatever it needs, whatever it costs, we stand behind our NHS.”
He offered support to any workers who become too ill to work, with new measures including the ability to obtain a sick note by contacting 111 rather than having to visit a GP.
Earlier, the Government said there were no plans to test any ministers, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for Covid-19, after health minister Nadine Dorries announced she had the virus.
PHE said it had assessed the risk of Ms Dorries’ individual close contacts, and only those with symptoms need to self-isolate.
For each Covid-19 case, a risk assessment is carried out and advice tailored to that group, a spokeswoman told the PA news agency.
Labour MP for York Central, Rachael Maskell, said she is self-isolating on the advice of 111 following a meeting with Ms Dorries last Thursday.
Ms Maskell told the PA news agency that just she, Ms Dorries, and members of the minister’s staff were present at the meeting.
She said: “I’m absolutely fine, obviously it’s frustrating because there are things I want to get on with.”
A Conservative MP also confirmed to PA that Ms Dorries had sent a message to the Tory WhatsApp group saying that a member of her staff is ill.
Ms Dorries’ parliamentary office remains closed following advice from PHE for it to stay shut.
The health minister tweeted thanks to her well-wishers, adding: “It’s been pretty rubbish but I hope I’m over the worst of it now.”More worried about my 84yo mum who is staying with me and began with the cough today. She is being tested tomorrow. Keep safe and keep washing those hands, everyone.”
Ms Dorries, the 62-year-old MP for Mid Bedfordshire, attended a Downing Street event on Thursday hosted by the Prime Minister to mark International Women’s Day.
But it is understood the PM had no close contact with Ms Dorries at the event, and has no symptoms, meaning he does not need a test.
Ms Dorries held a surgery in her constituency on Friday which was attended by up to 12 people. Details of those who attended have been passed to the NHS, he said.