Britain defends coronavirus plan as death toll rises to 35, with over 1,300 confirmed infections

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Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock says the UK government will have the power to force people to isolate if necessary, and urged Britons to avoid panic buying because "there's an impact on others".
A woman wearing a face mask walks in central London, on March 15, 2020. Britain said its criticised plan to deal with the coronavirus was designed to "protect life" in a "sustainable" manner as it prepared to unveil "wartime-style" measures to tackle the outbreak. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP, REUTERS) - Britain on Sunday (March 15) said its criticised plan to deal with coronavirus was designed to "protect life" in a "sustainable" manner as it prepared to unveil "wartime-style" measures to tackle the outbreak.

The government has yet to implement the kind of tough measures that continental Europe has adopted, but health minister Matt Hancock said Sunday it would announce emergency powers on Tuesday, which are expected to include a ban on mass gatherings.

"We are absolutely ready to do that," he told Sky News's Sophy Ridge. "We'll take the right action at the right time," he said, adding "the time is coming."

Britain's death toll from the disease rose on Sunday as health officials announced 14 more people had died, bringing the total number of fatalities to 35.

Official figures showed the country has 1,372 confirmed cases - an increase of 232 from the day before.

Critics have accused the government of not acting quickly enough to contain the spread, but the government has said that it is taking the advice of experts, including behavioural scientists, on when to deploy the measures.

"The goal here is to protect life, the measures have to be sustainable," he later told the BBC. "We will stop at nothing to fight this virus".

Other measures being considered include instructing people over 70 to stay in strict isolation at home or in care homes for four months, a Whitehall source told ITV News.

"That is in the action plan yes, there will be more details when it is the right time to do so," he told Sky, adding that it would be within the "coming weeks".

The "wartime-style" effort could see the requisitioning of hotels and private hospitals as emergency treatment centres as well as the closure of pubs, bars and restaurants, said the ITV report.

UK's chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance are waiting for the "optimal time" to deploy the "painful" measures, it added, believing that fatigue will set in and that old people could die of neglect if they move too early.

"We are going to need a massive community response," Hancock told Marr. "Every single person in this country is going to be affected." He also promised that the government would publish its models "in the next couple of days" following demands from the scientific community to see the underlying data.

There has also been some confusion about Vallance's suggestion on Thursday that they wanted enough people to catch the virus to build up "herd immunity".

Hancock told Sky that herd immunity was "not our goal" and that "our policy is to protect lives".

Meanwhile Britain has advised against all but essential travel to the United States due to US government restrictions on travellers from countries with a high incidence of coronavirus, which will include the UK and Ireland from 0359 GMT on March 17

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