Sports events and concerts may have to be cancelled and schools closed for more than two months if the UK is hit by a global pandemic of coronavirus, the chief medical officer has warned.
Prof Chris Whitty said the country should prepare to face disruption to many normal activities “for quite a long period” and to pay a heavy “social cost” for efforts to thwart the virus.
The NHS may have to cancel planned operations during the peak of a major outbreak to free up beds and staff for patients with coronavirus, he said, adding that the service would find it “quite tricky” to deal with a huge increase in the number of cases.
Whitty’s remarks, which came as the first case in Northern Ireland was confirmed, are the most explicit acknowledgement yet by top officials working to stop the spread of Covid-19 that the small number of cases recorded in the UK – 16 and no deaths so far – could yet escalate dramatically, depending on how the virus progresses internationally.
If sport is affected, that could pose problems for major events, such as the closing stages of the Premier League season and rugby’s ongoing Six Nations tournament. Ireland’s Six Nations match against Italy that was due to be played in Dublin on Saturday has already been called off because of the recent outbreak of coronavirus in Italy, where there have been more than 650 confirmed cases and 17 deaths.