The Mail on Sunday
ARMY TO GUARD HOSPITALS AND SUPERMARKETS
Darkest day yet as UK death toll nearly doubles Panic buying hits shops as plans are drawn up for...
MINISTERS have drawn up plans to put troops on the streets to help deal with the coronavirus crisis after the number of deaths almost doubled within 24 hours.
With the death toll jumping from 11 to 21 and the number of confirmed UK cases leaping by almost 40 per cent, Downing Street accelerated plans to ban large public events and implement the self-isolation of entire households where any member has succumbed to the illness.
In a bid to ‘shield’ the most vulnerable, the Government is also expected to tell people over 70 to stay in strict isolation at home or in care homes for four months.
Under emergency legislation to be put before MPs within days, safeguards introduced after the scandal involving serial killer Dr Harold Shipman will also be suspended in order to speed up cremations and burials.
Ministers will also get powers to make compulsory purchases of land to free up room for extra graveyards.
In preparation for the worst-case scenario,
defence sources told The Mail on Sunday that Army units were stepping up their training for public order roles – including the guarding of hospitals and supermarkets. The Royal Logistics Corps are preparing to be used to escort food convoys and the Royal Army Medical Corps is poised to build tented field hospitals next to care homes.
Troops trained in chemical, biological and nuclear warfare will deep-clean empty public buildings in case they need to be turned in to hospitals or morgues. And the Army has also drawn up contingency plans to keep petrol stations topped up with fuel when the country reaches ‘peak virus’.
The number of confirmed UK cases rose yesterday to 1,140, up from 820. And globally, there have now been 153,585 reported cases with 5,802 deaths.
In another day of dramatic developments:
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies told the Government that it will soon need to start shielding the most vulnerable members of society and isolating entire households;
President Donald Trump announced the US travel ban would be extended to the UK from tomorrow;
Hundreds of Britons, many of them elderly, were stuck aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean where five people have tested positive for the virus;
Spain and Poland closed their borders, stranding thousands of British holidaymakers, and France closed all non-essential public spaces such as cafes and cinemas;
Boris Johnson asked UK manufacturers to support the rapid, wartime-style production of essential medical kit, particularly ventilators, while the NHS will buy up beds in private hospitals;
Panic-buying led to extraordinary scenes at supermarkets across the country, prompting stores to plead with consumers to ‘work together’;
World Health Organisation spokesman Dr Margaret Harris questioned the British Government’s strategy of delaying ‘social distancing’, arguing that it risked infecting millions;
Chancellor Rishi Sunak met insurance leaders amid a growing row over who will foot the bill for cancelled holidays;
It emerged that care homes and hospitals are likely to be ‘ cocooned’ when the Easter lockdown comes into effect; Three patients tested positive for Covid-19 at a hospital close to the Queen’s Norfolk estate;
Downing Street underwent a ‘deep clean’ following a visit by Tory MP Nadine Dorries, who subsequently tested positive for the virus – but the Prime Minister has not been tested;
A group of Dutch scientists claimed to have found an antibody that may help detect and prevent the coronavirus from being able to infect people;
Experts predicted the Government could be forced to effectively nationalise airlines and train companies.
Defence sources told this newspaper that under the contingency plans, 38 military liaison officers would work with local councils to brief civil servants on how the Armed Forces could help combat the crisis.
The most essential staff, such as RAF Typhoon pilots, would be quarantined at work to ensure the UK’s continued protection and the SAS’s standby squadron would be held i n the UK, rather than be deployed overseas.
If the crisis deepens, hundreds – possibly thousands – of troops could be deployed. Hundreds of members of t he Armed Forces hol d HGV licences and are trained in transporting hazardous loads such as fuel. Members of the
Royal Military Police would also support local constabulaties, while troops could also be used to drive ambulances and fire engines.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister will tomorrow issue a Churchillian call to leading British manufacturers to join a national effort to combat the spread of the virus. In particular he will urge the construction of more ventilators, which the Government will vow to buy.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: ‘The scale of the challenge we face means we can’t do this alone... we need every part of society and every industry to ask what they can do to help the effort.’
Amid criticism of the Government’ s strategy, Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said they will publish the statistical models on which the ‘shielding and isolating’ response was based.
Field hospitals could be built at care homes