The government’s emergency committee is being convened today to discuss the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China.
Ministers from the Home Office, Foreign Office, and transport, education and communities departments have all been summoned, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not attend.
Fourteen people in the UK have been tested for the virus, with five given the all-clear and nine still awaiting results.
So far 26 people have died in China, with at least 33 million people in Hubei province affected by lockdowns.
Restrictions include the suspension of public transport services, while some cities have also shut public venues such as temples and cinemas.
China has announced plans to build a 1,000-bed hospital in five days to treat victims.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the outbreak an emergency but said it was “too early” to consider it a “public health emergency of international concern” given “its restrictive and binary nature”.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock cautioned yesterday that “there is an increased likelihood that cases may arise in this country” but insisted “we are well prepared and well equipped to deal with them”.
He will chair the meeting today – named COBRA after the room where they are traditionally held in, Cabinet Office Briefing Room A.
Universities are being contacted by the government about their preparedness and are being told to give information to students, the prime minister’s spokesman said.
Symptoms of the virus are said to be similar to a cold, and include fever, sneezing and coughing.
Safety measures have already been stepped up at some UK airports, where passengers flying directly from the epicentre of the outbreak are being asked to declare if they have any symptoms.
The chief medical officer has warned clinical staff in a letter that the “mass movement” of people in and outside China for the upcoming Chinese new year celebrations may “amplify transmission”.
Anyone who is confirmed as having the virus will be transferred to an Airborne High Consequences Infectious Disease Centre, the letter added.
There are four interim Airborne HCID centres in England – two in London, one in Liverpool and one in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.