The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK has now reached 460, after the biggest rise in a single day.
It comes as two more people with the virus died in the UK, bringing the total to eight.
One was in their 70s and had underlying health conditions in Dudley, while the other, in Nuneaton, was elderly and had a number of serious health conditions.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the peak of the UK outbreak was expected “in a matter of a couple of months”.
He told MPs he was meeting the opposition “first thing” on Thursday to discuss emergency laws that will be set out next week, adding: “The best way for us to beat it is for us to work together.”
The legislation will include measures to keep public services running, help businesses, and ensure the adult social care sector is ready.
He said Parliament would stay open, since “the public will expect Parliament to sit and to get on with its job”, and the prime minister would chair a further meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra meeting on Thursday.
It comes as the World Health Organization upgraded the status of the outbreak to a pandemic.
The two latest deaths were announced on Wednesday by George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust and Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust.
Meanwhile, a 53-year-old British woman has become the first person with Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, to die in Indonesia, according to local media reports.
It is not clear whether the woman – who was reportedly critically ill with multiple health conditions – died due to the virus.
A flight carrying about 135 British passengers and crew members from the quarantined Grand Princess cruise ship in California has landed in Birmingham.
Passengers were wearing face masks as they were led off the plane at Birmingham Airport and onto coaches by officials wearing hazmat suits. They are all being asked to self-isolate.
Britons from a quarantined cruise ship in California have landed in Birmingham
On Wednesday, the Department of Health confirmed there had been 83 more cases since Tuesday. In all, 27,476 people have been tested so far.
Later, Wales confirmed four new cases.
Scotland and Wales have also seen their first cases of community transmission – meaning the virus was contracted in the UK and is unrelated to travel.
Of the cases in England, London has the highest number, with 104. South-east England is the next highest infected area, with 60 cases, followed by south-west England with 44 cases.
One case has been confirmed in a council-run care home in Basingstoke, Hampshire. The patient has been taken to hospital.
Delivering the Budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak pledged the NHS would get “whatever resources it needs” during the crisis – whether it needed “millions of pounds or billions”.
He said workers who fell ill would be able to get a sick note by ringing 111 rather than visiting a GP, and people who were self-employed who were off work because of the virus would be eligible for benefits from day one.
For businesses, Mr Sunak promised a temporary coronavirus loan scheme to help small and medium-sized companies and said the government would rebate firms with up to 250 people for the cost of statutory sick pay.
Mr Hancock was asked by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt about comments previously made by England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries, that the start of the UK peak of the epidemic could be within the next fortnight.
Mr Hancock replied: “I just want to slightly correct the point about the deputy chief medical officer who said that in the next couple of weeks, we may see the numbers starting to rise fast to their peak.
“We do not expect numbers to peak in the next fortnight, we expect numbers to continue to rise after that and the peak would be in a matter of a couple of months, rather than a matter of a couple of weeks. This is a marathon and not a sprint.”
Mr Hancock added that 12 labs were now testing people for coronavirus, and the government was working with “more than two dozen companies on further testing capability”.
ADVICE TO TOURISTS IN ITALY
The Foreign Office has issued a travel update for British nationals in Italy, urging all remaining tourists to contact their airline operators and return back to the UK.
People were still able to leave Italy without restrictions and airports were still open, the Foreign Office added.
Italy is the European country worst-hit by the coronavirus outbreak, with the whole of the country currently in lockdown.
Anyone who has returned from anywhere in Italy since Monday is being asked to self-isolate, even if they do not have symptoms.
Earlier this week, tourist Hannah Butcher from Newbury, who was in Rome, said it was “the weirdest holiday” she had ever been on, with one-in one-out rules to get into shops and families having to sit apart in restaurants.
In other developments:
- NHS England plans to expand the number of people it can test in a day to 10,000, up from 1,500. It is expected that confirmation of positive test results will be sped up in the UK with most people receiving them within 24 hours
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson shared a video on social media of a chat he had with England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries, who said the UK was not banning large gatherings because officials were “following the science”
- The bank Barclay’s is deep cleaning its London office in Canary Wharf after an employee tested positive
- The chief executive of NHS England Sir Simon Stevens announced plans to invite “up to 18,000 third year undergraduate nurses to help out on the frontline”
- Uber has said any driver or delivery person with coronavirus will receive “financial assistance for up to 14 days” – although it is not clear how much
- Conservative health minister Nadine Dorries and one of her staff members have tested positive for the virus. A Labour MP and a constituent who came in to contact with the minister are self-isolating. The government said there were no plans to test any ministers or the prime minister, Mr Johnson, and Mr Hancock said he did not need to be tested
- The Bank of England earlier announced an emergency cut in interest rates from 0.75% to 0.25% in response to the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak
- Manchester City’s Premier League match against Arsenal on Wednesday has been postponed as several Arsenal players are in self-isolation after coming into contact with Olympiakos owner Evangelos Marinakis, who tested positive for the virus
- Ireland has recorded its first coronavirus-related death, after a patient died in the east of the country on Wednesday