News story

Coronavirus action plan launched

The action plan provides information on the government's plans to contain the spread of coronavirus and what action could be taken if the virus does spread.


The government has published its official coronavirus action plan. The Prime Minister introduced the plan at Downing Street on Tuesday 3 March.

The document provides the public with information on:

  • the government’s plans to contain the spread of the virus

  • how action will develop as the virus spreads

  • what people can do to protect themselves and their families

The plan also includes information on the government’s 4-stage strategy to: 

  • contain
  • delay
  • research
  • mitigate

It sets out advice for how the public should respond in each stage, including what to expect if the outbreak becomes a pandemic.  

Actions if the virus spreads to pandemic levels could include: 

  • police, fire and rescue services to carrying out business continuity plans in response to staff shortages
  • support for businesses facing short-term cash flow issues because of the virus to minimise impact on the economy
  • emergency registration of health professionals who have recently retired
  • introducing emergency indemnity coverage for health care workers to provide care or diagnostic services and relaxation of rules around staff to pupil ratios in education and childcare settings
  • every government department to have a ministerial lead on the virus to help oversee government response to coronavirus

The UK is currently focusing on containing the spread – the first stage of the plan.  

The next stage of the plan involves delaying the outbreak until warmer months to avoid overlapping with seasonal flu and other winter pressures on the NHS. A public information campaign will be introduced to support this. The campaign will include advice for the public on preventing the spread through proper handwashing.

The government may also ask businesses to consider more home working and discourage unnecessary travel as part of a ‘social distancing’ strategy to delay the peak of the outbreak. 

If UK scientific experts advise that the virus has begun to circulate more widely in this country and can no longer be delayed, the government will carry out plans to mitigate the threat to people, with an emphasis on the most vulnerable. 

The plans were signed off at COBR this week and ministerial COBR meetings will be stepped up if the virus escalates. 

All the plans are backed by research. The government has so far invested over £40 million in research to find a vaccine. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

I fully understand the public’s concerns about the global spread of this virus, and it is likely to become more significant in the coming weeks.

But keeping the country safe is our overriding priority and today’s plan means we are committed to doing everything possible – based on the advice of our world-leading scientific experts – to prepare for all eventualities.

We will make sure the NHS gets all the support it needs to continue their brilliant response to the virus so far. 

Crucially, we must also not forget what we can all do to fight this virus, which is to wash our hands with soap and water for the length of time it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice. 

It’s simple advice but it’s the single most important thing we can all do.

Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary, said: 

We are taking all possible steps to contain this virus and they will remain driven and grounded by science.

We have always said this outbreak could worsen before it gets better. Today’s battle plans, backed by our world-leading infectious disease experts, set out what actions the public can expect from government now and if the virus does progress. Protecting the most vulnerable is our absolute priority.

We all have a role to play in combatting this threat and I urge everyone to take stock of the simple methods that offer the best protection.  

Right now, this means making sure you are washing your hands properly and regularly and always following the most current public health and travel advice as it develops. This advice will evolve as the situation changes, and we are committed to making sure the public always has the most up-to-date advice they need.

Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, said: 

The measures outlined in the plan are based on the best available scientific evidence – and led by our world-leading infectious disease experts. 

Simple as it sounds, the single most important thing individuals can do to protect themselves right now is wash their hands regularly, for at least 20 seconds, with soap and water. We have always said it is likely we can expect more cases and today’s action plan outlines the types of options open to government in each phase of an outbreak.

Published 3 March 2020