The Health Secretary is set to call up an army of three million volunteers to reinforce the NHS in its battles with coronavirus.
Volunteers will give up a few hours of their time to support
healthcare staff in hospitals, nursing homes and community centres across the
And volunteers will be given additional employment
safeguards, allowing them to leave their main jobs and temporarily help health
and social systems in the event of a widespread pandemic.
Mr Hancock insisted the Government will do ‘everything in its power’ to contain the Covid-19 outbreak, and he set out plans contained in emergency legislation to deal with the impact of the virus.
The Bill, which is likely to go through Parliament by the
end of the month, is expected to include measures to allow some court
proceedings to be conducted via telephone or video.
As of Saturday morning, 206 people in the UK had tested
positive for coronavirus – a rise of 42 from the 164 cases which had been
confirmed by Friday evening.
On Saturday evening, a further three cases were confirmed in
Northern Ireland – bringing the UK total to 209.
The Department of Health said more than 21,000 people had been tested for the virus.
Calls to the NHS 111 service have increased by more than a third compared to the same period last year, with 120,000 extra calls in the first week of March, the department said.
Five hundred additional initial call responders have been
trained to handle the higher demand.
Mr Hancock said: ‘We will do all we can to contain
coronavirus, but as we know, Covid-19 is spreading across the world, so I want
to ensure Government is doing everything in its power to be ready to delay and
mitigate this threat.
‘Public safety is my top priority. Responding to coronavirus
is a massive national effort and I’m working with colleagues across government
to ensure we have a proportionate emergency bill, with the right measures to
deal with the impacts of a widespread Covid-19 outbreak.
‘We plan for the worst and work for the best, and the NHS is
working 24/7 to fight this virus. Calls to NHS 111 have increased by more than
a third and we have already put in place 500 extra staff to help with this
‘Every person has a role to play in managing the spread of Covid-19 – whether that’s washing your hands more often for 20 seconds or catching your sneezes.
His comments came as former Tory chancellor Philip Hammond said the spread of the disease had the potential to push the UK into a recession, and suggested it could pose a greater risk to the economy than a no-deal Brexit.
The ex-MP told the Sunday Times the Government needed to
address a ‘critical and structural weakness in just-in-time supply chains’
which he said have been exposed by the impact of the coronavirus on businesses.
On Monday, Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the Government’s emergency committee, Cobra, as officials accelerate work on preparations for the delay phase of the coronavirus plan.
Meanwhile sports governing bodies and broadcasters will
attend a meeting with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to
discuss how to handle the outbreak’s possible impact on the sporting calendar.
Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle will chair a meeting of the House
of Commons Commission to discuss Parliament’s response.
And Environment Secretary George Eustice will hold further talks with retailers to discuss support for vulnerable groups who may have to self-isolate.
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