MPs are set to grill England’s top doctor the day after the biggest day-on-day increase in coronavirus cases in the UK was reported.
The number of confirmed cases had risen by 36 to a total of 87 by Wednesday evening, with officials warning that a UK epidemic is looking “likely”.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty is due to appear before the Health and Social Care Committee.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which is chaired by the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, is also meeting on Thursday to discuss the situation.
Meanwhile, a Scottish doctor who is working to create a global coronavirus vaccine, has said her team is around three months ahead of schedule.
Dr Kate Broderick, a 42-year-old molecular geneticist who works for the pharmaceutical company Inovio and is based in California, told The Scotsman newspaper that the team was hoping to start the first clinical trial of the jab in April.
The new coronavirus cases reported on Wednesday included 32 patients from England.
“Twenty-nine patients were diagnosed who had recently travelled from recognised countries or from recognised clusters which were under investigation,” said Prof Whitty.
“Three additional patients contracted the virus in the UK and it is not yet clear whether they contracted it directly or indirectly from an individual who had recently returned from abroad.
“This is being investigated and contact tracing has begun.”
The Department of Health has been updating the UK figures daily, with one Northern Ireland case among the 85 recorded at 2pm on Wednesday.
However, Northern Ireland later confirmed two more cases, taking the UK total to 87.
Earlier, Prof Whitty told the BBC there could be a need to do “extreme things” to protect the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions.
He added: “At this point in time we think it is likely, not definite, that we will move into onward transmission and an epidemic here in the UK.”
But he stressed that for most people, “this will be a mild or moderate disease, anything from a sniffle to having to go to bed for a few days, rather like with mild flu”.
Prof Whitty suggested that shutting down cities in the UK would not be effective now.
He said: “Closing cities is really only appropriate if you have a significant epidemic in one particular place and almost nothing anywhere else.
“It made sense for China to respond in the way it did, but it would be very unlikely here … This is now in multiple places in Europe and around the world.”
As cases in the UK climb, the Department of Health said it would no “longer be tweeting information on the location of each new case”.
Meanwhile Boris Johnson said at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday plans would soon be revealed on how the Government intends to delay the advance of coronavirus in Parliament and other large gatherings.
It comes as The Times reported a senior parliamentary source said the Commons and Lords could shut for up to five months to prevent MPs spreading the illness.
Earlier on Wednesday a spokesman for the Prime Minister added Parliament would be “led by experts” on preventative measures while a UK Parliament spokesman said precautionary measures were already being taken.
Britons who have returned from the Costa Adeje Hotel in Tenerife since Monday have been advised to self-isolate after a case of coronavirus was diagnosed at the hotel on March 2.
Elsewhere, the London Book Fair at Olympia from March 10 to 12 was cancelled after major publishers pulled out amid coronavirus fears.
Four new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the Republic of Ireland, taking the total number of cases to six.
The two male and two female patients, from the western part of the country, were all “associated with travel” from the same affected area in northern Italy, according to the country’s Department of Health.
A letter to NHS trusts has also been published telling them to ramp up their plans for tackling Covid-19, including seeing patients via video link.
It sets out that a level 4 NHS incident has been declared – the highest level – meaning extra steps are needed.
She told Sky News: “Ironically, I think a lot of the work we did last year preparing for the supposed no-deal Brexit on 31 October has stood the Government in incredibly good stead – looking at packages of support and how you might be able to help companies keep going should something dramatic happen.
“I’m quite sure that some of that will be being dusted off with a view to looking at how that could be adapted.”
A new Government publicity campaign seeks to drive home the message that regular hand-washing is the single most important action individuals can take in the fight against Covid-19.
The new adverts say hand-washing should be for 20 seconds, using soap and water or hand sanitiser.
Government scientific experts predict the UK’s coronavirus outbreak could last for around four to six months.
Globally, there are now more than 93,000 cases, with more than 3,000 deaths.