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UK moves to ‘delay phase’ in bid to tackle coronavirus spread

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks and takes questions during a press conference in Downing Street regarding the coronavirus outbreak, on March 9, 2020. in London, England.

Alberto Pezzali – WPA Pool | Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a change of strategy to tackle the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday, moving to delay the spread of the virus rather than containing it.

Johnson said the most dangerous period for the country was some weeks away, telling citizens that they should stay at home for seven days if they have symptoms, however mild. He said schools would not be closed at this stage and the government was considering the question of banning of major public events.

“We are now getting onto the next phase,” Johnson said. “This is now not just an attempt to contain the disease as far as possible, but to delay its spread.”

It comes shortly after the WHO said the fast-spreading virus can now be described as a pandemic.

Global cases of the coronavirus climbed above 127,000 Thursday afternoon, with 4,717 deaths reported worldwide.

The U.K. has the 10th-highest number of COVID-19 infections in Europe, with 596 cases and 10 deaths to date.

Earlier in the day, Ireland announced it would close schools, colleges and other public facilities as the coronavirus continues to spread.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the measures would come into force from 6 p.m. London time on Thursday, remaining in place through to March 29.

Mass indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor gatherings of over 500 people should also be canceled, Varadkar said.

Ireland has reported 43 infections of COVID-19, with one death.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump abruptly announced plans to suspend travel to the U.S. from most of continental Europe on Wednesday, with exemptions to the U.K. and Ireland. The travel order sent financial markets tumbling Thursday morning.

Britain’s FTSE 100 index slipped more than 10% on Thursday, with travel and leisure stocks down around 13%.

On March 3, Johnson warned that up to one-fifth of the U.K. workforce might be off sick during the peak of the coronavirus outbreak.

He also warned the police may need to prioritize the most serious crimes and focus on maintaining public order if the virus spreads.