March 2, 2020 / 10:31 PM / a month ago

UK preparing measures to help business, economy if coronavirus spreads

LONDON, March 2 (Reuters) - The British government is preparing possible measures to support the health service, businesses and the economy as the outbreak of coronavirus continues to spread, the finance ministry said on Monday.

The United Kingdom has so far had 40 confirmed cases of the virus, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said earlier that a “very significant expansion of coronavirus” was possible and the country should be prepared for it.

“We are well prepared for this global threat and, as the wider economic picture becomes clearer, we stand ready to announce further support where needed,” finance minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement.

His department said he would provide a further update on economic developments and government action when he presents his first budget to parliament on March 11 and had asked officials to work up “further measures to support the public health response, businesses and the economy as needed”.

Sunak spoke to the Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, on Monday. The central bank earlier said it was working with international partners and the finance ministry to ensure all necessary steps are taken to offset the economic hit from coronavirus.

Johnson will on Tuesday publish the government’s “battle plan” to tackle the spread of coronavirus, holding a news conference at his Downing Street residence alongside England’s Chief Medical Officer the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser.

The plan will include the option of encouraging more home working and discouraging unnecessary travel as part of what it called a “social distancing” strategy to delay the peak of the outbreak until later in the year when the weather is warmer and the health service is under less seasonal pressure.

Other measures include looking at emergency registration for health professionals who have retired, the government said.

“It is highly likely coronavirus will spread more widely in the coming days and weeks, which is why we’re making every possible preparation,” Johnson said in a statement. “We are ready to take necessary steps to contain it and protect the most vulnerable.”

The government is due to launch a major public information campaign later this week, run from a “war room” in the Cabinet Office, setting out steps people can take to limit the spread of the virus, such as washing their hands regularly.

Johnson’s office said it would also publish legislation in the coming weeks which would give the government necessary powers to prepare for and tackle the outbreak. (Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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