Newly-retired doctors and nurses could be asked to return to the NHS as part of a UK “battle plan” to combat a possible further spread of coronavirus.
If the outbreak worsens, people could also be urged to work from home, under the government contingency proposals.
Confirmed measures will see a minister in every department dedicated to tackling the outbreak and a “war room” to drive a new public health campaign.
The UK has 23 confirmed cases but there are warnings more will follow.
Meanwhile, more than 200 British holidaymakers locked down at a quarantined hotel in Tenerife have been told they will be allowed to fly home, if they test negative for coronavirus.
The travellers have been quarantined at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel since Tuesday after four Italians contracted the virus. Some have already been allowed to leave.
The Foreign Office is in contact with operators and travel agents about their plans to return Britons to the UK.
Wash hands for 20 seconds
The government says it will publish its “updated action plan” on its response to the virus, Covid-19, later this week.
It is based on existing plans for a pandemic flu outbreak – but has been adapted for the coronavirus.
The plan includes extra meetings of the emergency committee Cobra and the war room in the Cabinet Office, where scientists and media advisers will be rolling out their information campaign.
This will see posters and social media adverts telling people to wash their hands for 20 seconds or more with soap and water.
Whitehall officials say they will be working closely with their counterparts in the devolved administrations.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who will chair a Cobra meeting on Monday, said: “Coronavirus may very well be a challenge in the weeks and months ahead.
“But I have no doubt that with the help of the NHS and its incomparable staff this country will get through it and beat it.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “every part of government is working together to share the responsibility of tackling the health, economic, and social impacts… but cannot do this alone.
“Every single person has a role to play in helping to manage the spread of the virus – whether that’s washing your hands more often, catching your sneezes, and following clinical advice.”
Infant school closed
More than 10,000 people have now been tested for the virus in the UK.
The latest three confirmed cases are from Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire and Berkshire. Two of them had recently returned from Italy, while the other had come back from Asia, chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty said.
On Saturday evening, Willow Bank Infant School in Woodley, Berkshire, issued a statement saying one of its members of staff had tested positive for the virus – thought to be one of the latest cases. It will close for a deep clean.
Currently, the UK is in the “containment” phase – where the strategy is to isolate people with the virus in hospital and trace who they came into contact with.
Health leaders say current containment measures may still be sufficient.
But the next phase could see broader “social distancing” measures – such as urging more people to work from home and discouraging unnecessary travel, the government said.
Rules around class sizes in schools could also be relaxed in the event of widespread staff shortages.
The Scottish government says it is increasing tests for coronavirus to all people with flu-like symptoms, even those who have not travelled to an affected area.
Meanwhile, health officials are still trying to find out how a man from Surrey caught the virus, after he became the first person to be infected within the UK.
The man, who is being treated at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in central London, had not been abroad recently – unlike the other cases in the UK.
Officials are trying to trace people who had contact with him.
Ten more cases of the virus in the UK in just over two days might raise eyebrows, but health officials say all but one can be easily explained because the patients have travelled from the most affected countries, including Northern Italy and Iran.
Since the first UK cases were confirmed in York – two Chinese nationals – positive tests have been recorded in the south of England, Derbyshire, south Wales and Northern Ireland.
Of potential concern is the case in Surrey, a man who had not travelled abroad.
Public health officials are tracing his contacts to see if his infection can be explained by another individual who has arrived in the UK from abroad.
In other developments:
- The Foreign Office has called on Iran to “immediately allow” health officials to examine Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – a British-Iranian woman jailed in Iran. Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said he suspected she had the virus but said prison staff were refusing to test her
- The Republic of Ireland has confirmed its first case. Health officials said the man, from the eastern part of the country, was associated with travel from an affected area in northern Italy
- People who had been in close contact with the first person to test positive for the virus in Northern Ireland have all been notified, officials say
- President Donald Trump says the first person in the US to die from coronavirus was a medically high-risk woman in her late 50s
- France has temporarily banned gatherings of more than 5,000 people “in confined spaces” as it reported a jump in cases
- South Korea which has the highest number of cases outside China, mobilised the army on Saturday
What do I need to know about the coronavirus?
- WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS? A simple guide
- WAYS TO PREVENT CATCHING IT: How to wash your hands
- WHERE ARE WE WITH A VACCINE? Progress so far
- A VISUAL GUIDE TO THE OUTBREAK: Virus maps and charts
- WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR MY HOLIDAY? Your rights as a traveller
The World Health Organization has raised its global risk assessment of the virus to its top level, “very high”.
Globally, more than 85,000 people have been infected, with cases in more than 57 countries. Nearly 3,000 people have died – the vast majority in China’s Hubei province, where the outbreak originated in December.