March 2, 2020 / 12:39 PM / in a month

Coronavirus outbreak will spread, British PM Johnson says

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that Britain must be prepared for the new coronavirus to spread further.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits a charity The Connection At St Martin's that supports rough sleepers in London, Britain February 27, 2020. Tim Clarke/Pool via REUTERS

“I think it’s very important to stress that this is a problem that is likely to become more significant for this country in the course of the next days and weeks,” Johnson said.

“We’ll be making every possible preparation for that, and this country is very, very well prepared.”

The United Kingdom so far has 40 confirmed novel coronavirus cases. Johnson said the government would announce its main action plan for the outbreak on Tuesday.

“We’ve also agreed a plan so that, as and when, if and when, it starts to spread, as I’m afraid it looks likely that it will, we are in a position to take the steps that will be necessary ... to contain the spread of the disease as far as we can,” Johnson said.

In an interview with the BBC later, Johnson said the government was ready for the potential economic impact of the virus.

Asked about the possibility of widespread closures of schools, cancellations of major events and lockdowns of large areas, Johnson said such measures were among the possible range of responses.

“The issue will be when and how and with what logic to deploy them,” he said, adding that at the moment, beyond vigilance in handwashing, “it should be business as usual”.

The Bank of England said it was working with international partners and the finance ministry to ensure “all necessary steps are taken” to offset the economic hit from the virus.

Johnson’s spokesman said British finance minister Rishi Sunak and the Treasury had been in discussions with the Bank Of England about the virus, but that the annual budget statement would go ahead on March 11.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Kate Holton and Kylie MacLellan; editing by Michael Holden and Kevin Liffey

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