Move to weekly UK coronavirus updates criticised by experts

Three of the cases are believed to have been contracted within the UK, confirming fears that community transmission is already occurring and that attempts to contain the virus have at least partly failed.

They said the move was a response to the sheer number of new cases. But a former director at Public Health England (PHE) said the move should be reconsidered to allow the public to make informed choices. It came as:

  • Italy announced the closure of all schools and universities, with sport events to be played behind closed doors as the death toll surpassed 100.
  • The prime minister announced that statutory sick pay will be paid from the first day off work, not the fourth, to encourage people to self isolate.
  • PHE said that people may be asked not to shake hands should the outbreak worsen.
  • The release of the James Bond film, No Time to Die, was pushed back seven months to November.

Prof John Ashton, former north-west regional director of PHE, criticised the decision not to disclose the locations of new coronavirus cases.

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“They should be sharing the data as much as possible, to make the public equal partners in tackling this and help them make decisions about their own lives. The public needs to know if it’s in their area on a daily basis,” he said. Dr Jennifer Cole, biological anthropologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, who carried out research into information exchange during the Ebola crisis, said the move risked the spread of fake news.

The chief medical officer for England, Chris Whitty, said it was unclear whether the three new person-to-person infections were direct or indirect from someone who has recently travelled from abroad.

It is known that many had travelled from Italy. Two were diagnosed in Greater Manchester, two in South Ribble, Lancashire, one in Liverpool, and two in Carlisle – including a member of healthcare staff at the Cumberland Infirmary.

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