The Guardian learned that police investigations into some murders would be halted and response times of 999 would be extended based on contingency plans to help forces cope with a serious coronavirus outbreak.
When the number of confirmed cases in the UK reached 51, the government warned that up to a fifth of the workforce could be ill during a potential outbreak. A number of measures would be introduced if the virus went beyond the currently designated “containment phase”, according to a 28-page action plan.
On Tuesday evening, NHS England ordered tests on thousands of patients in hospital intensive care units, fearing that the virus could spread unnoticed among people with respiratory problems.
Twelve other people across England proved positive for coronavirus – the second one-day increase only in higher cases – with all the prerequisites for contracting it abroad. Eight had recently traveled from Italy, while the rest came from Germany, Singapore, Japan and Iran.
Canary Island health officials also reported the first case of a positive test result of a British citizen verification in a quarantined hotel in Tenerife. In other developments:
A seventh person with coronavirus died in the Seattle area of the United States, while the death toll exceeded 3,100 people with over 90,000 infected in 73 countries and territories.
UK officials have revealed plans for new legislation that could force children and teachers to move to alternative schools if their school is closed.
If the number of NHS staff is affected, some non-urgent care may be delayed and retired health care workers may be returned to service, the government said.
Unite, the union, warned that factories could close or cut working hours due to a shortage of parts from China if the coronavirus crisis worsened.
Johnson held a rare Downing Street press conference to explain the government’s “battle plan” on Tuesday, including potential future advice to elders not to attend social gatherings. It has been joined by scientific experts that Downing Street research has suggested that the public has more confidence in bringing crucial health messages.
Among the plans drawn up to keep hospitals, schools and other public services in operation, the action plan warned: “With a significant loss of officials and staff, the police would focus on responding to serious crime and maintaining the public order”.
Meetings of senior police and government officials have developed options to address serious disruptions, including rationing services to respond to only 999 emergency calls such as ongoing crime, domestic violence, sexual assault and homicide.
A senior source said investigations of non-time-critical murders could be postponed provided there has been no increase in threat or risk. “We could stop investigating the murders, stop anything that’s not critical in terms of time. Everything goes into protecting life and property,” they said.
Other measures taken by the police could include increasing response times to crimes such as burglaries, as there is no legally established time to participate; postpone some proactive activities, for example against gangs and serious organized crimes, with the hijacking of those officers to the frontline response; stop work on past crimes such as sexual abuse; and pulling officers out of the neighborhood police – seen as critical to building trust and intelligence – so they are free to respond to 999 serious emergencies.
Police chiefs could choose to suspend non-emergency police number 101 to discourage reporting low-level crime, although there would be concerns about an increase in 999 calls.
The source added that the forces suffer from years of cuts and will face difficult choices if the more serious effects of the coronavirus are realized: “The public cannot expect an equally good service in a worse scenario. They must be reasonable about what it can do a police force with 20% of personnel missing due to illness and still impoverished by austerity “.
The action plan said the army is waiting to help. Soldiers with guns could guard parliament and Buckingham Palace, with the armed police transferred to other duties, of course.
As a sign of the tension on British fabric, planners told police to limit army demands, because the military could fill firefighters or even help bury the dead.
Military aid would come under plans originally devised for terrorist emergencies when the United Kingdom suffers imminent attack warnings, such as after the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing.
The government is planning to pass legislation that creates powers that it can use if the epidemic becomes more severe and medical experts believe that “social distancing” is necessary to control its spread.
These are expected to include: the power to detain people at the border for the purpose of medical checks; allow wider use of judicial hearings via video link, as already happens in some cases; and allow the government to close large-scale public events, even if the government believes that many would have been voluntarily canceled.
The prime minister downplayed the risks of widespread school arrests, saying: “We don’t think schools should shut down in principle. If possible, they should stay open, but school authorities should follow Public Health England’s advice.”