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Coronavirus: Up to fifth of UK workers ‘off sick at same time’

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Up to a fifth of the workforce may be off sick during the peak of a coronavirus epidemic in the UK, the government says in its latest plans.

Police may need to focus on only responding to the most serious crimes and maintaining public order if the virus spreads.

The Army could also provide support to emergency services if needed.

Other possible measures include school closures, reducing social gatherings and working from home.

Some non-urgent hospital care may be delayed to focus on treating coronavirus patients, while recently retired doctors and nurses may be called back to work.

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Monday there could be “significant expansion” in UK cases as the number rose to 39.

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While the vast majority of patients will have a mild to moderate illness, similar to seasonal flu, a minority will require hospital care and a small proportion could die, the plans warn.

There are no estimates given in the plans but they do warn of an increase in deaths, particularly among vulnerable and elderly groups.

Cases of coronavirus in the UK

Meanwhile, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has ordered Treasury officials to work up plans to support the public health response, businesses and the economy in his Budget on 11 March.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney said policymakers stand ready to help businesses and households through an economic shock caused by the virus that could “prove large but will ultimately be temporary”.

A public information campaign will be launched later this week outlining how the public can help to limit the spread of the virus, including by washing hands regularly with soap and water.

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