A total of 590 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in the UK, with government ministers now expected to move to the next stage of its phased plan to tackle the outbreak.
Some 29,764 people in the UK have been tested for the respiratory infection so far. Ten people who tested positive have died.
This series of maps, charts and graphics will help you understand the situation in the UK and how the authorities are dealing with it.
1. The number of UK cases is growing
The new coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease known as Covid-19, was first confirmed in the UK at the end of January.
Since then, cases have been reported across the UK, with 130 new cases announced on Thursday.
The figures show 491 of the confirmed cases are in England, 60 are in Scotland, 20 are in Northern Ireland and 19 are in Wales.
The start of the UK peak of the coronavirus epidemic is expected within the next two weeks, according to Dr Jenny Harries, England’s deputy chief medical officer.
But numbers for the UK are much lower than other European countries, such as Italy, for example, where there have been more than 12,400 cases and more than 820 deaths.
While there were a number of people testing positive throughout February, figures in the UK began to increase significantly at the beginning of March.
Prof Chris Whitty, the country’s chief medical adviser, said he was expecting the numbers to “increase initially slowly, but really quite fast after a while, and we have to catch it before the upswing begins”.
NHS England plans to expand the number of people it can test in a day to 10,000, up from 1,500.
Globally, authorities have confirmed more than 127,700 cases of the coronavirus and more than 4,700 deaths.
The vast majority of cases – more than 80,900 – are in China, where the virus originated in December.
2. We are in the first phase of the government’s response
The government has published its action plan for dealing with the virus, which involves three phases – contain; delay; mitigate – alongside ongoing research.
The emphasis has been on the contain and research phases up until now, but preparations are being made to move to the “delay” stage to stop the wider spread of the virus.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to sign off plans to move from the “containment” phase of the outbreak to “delay” at the emergency Cobra meeting later on Thursday.
The move could result in people who show even minor signs of respiratory tract infections – such as a cough – or a fever soon being told to self-isolate.
While the containment phase involves catching cases early and tracing all close contacts to halt the spread of the disease for as long as possible, the delay phase could mean the introduction of “social distancing” measures, such as urging people to work from home – if possible – and cutting back on socialising.
Closing schools and banning big events is seen as less likely to happen.
If the virus becomes even more widespread, the government may then decide to enter the mitigation phase, when health services are asked to focus on critical care and retired NHS staff could be asked to return to work.
3. People who think they have coronavirus should contact NHS 111
If there’s a chance you could have coronavirus, you are advised not to go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.
Instead, the NHS says you should contact its dedicated 111 online coronavirus service if you are in England.
In Scotland, you should call your GP or NHS 24 on 111 out of hours. In Wales call 111 (if available in your area) or 0845 46 47. In Northern Ireland call 111.
As a result, you may be asked to stay away from other people (self-isolate). You may also be passed on to your local health protection team for testing.
4. Many returning travellers are being asked to stay at home
Many of the UK’s cases have been people who recently travelled from affected countries – including Italy and France as well as China and Iran.
For this reason, the UK government has issued advice for returning travellers.
People who have travelled to the following places have been advised to stay indoors and avoid contact with other people (self-isolate) even if they don’t have symptoms:
- Anywhere in Italy on or after 9 March
- Specific areas in northern Italy in the last 14 days
- Iran in the last 14 days
- Hubei province in China in the last 14 days
- Daegu, Cheongdo or Gyeongsan in South Korea in the last 14 days
In addition, travellers are being asked to stay at home if they have been to following places in the last 14 days and are showing symptoms, such as a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath:
- Italy (outside specific areas in northern Italy) before 9 March
- Mainland China outside of Hubei province
- South Korea outside of Daegu, Cheongdo and Gyeongsan
- Hong Kong