The UK government is not expected to cancel sports fixtures today despite the threat of the coronavirus, the Culture Secretary has said.
Tory Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden said this week's Cheltenham Festival "should go ahead". And while fixtures may be cancelled in future, that is not the plan for today's COBRA meeting.
Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the government's emergency committee at 11am on whether to move formally from the "contain" to the "delay" stage of the virus.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said last Thursday the UK was already "mainly" in the delay phase – which could involve working from home and banning gatherings. But none have been cancelled yet.
The UK now has 278 cases and three deaths from the virus after a leap over the weeekend.
But Mr Dowden, who is meeting sports broadcasters today, said “any talk of cancellation is very premature indeed – at the moment there’s no evidence at all to suggest we should be doing that and we don’t have any plans to.”
The Culture Secretary told BBC Radio 5 Live: “At this stage we are not in the territory of cancelling or postponing events and I don’t expect that to be the case after today.
“I was at Twickenham [watching England v Wales rugby in the Six Nations] with the Prime Minister. There was a huge crowd of people there. There’s no reason why people should not be going to those sort of events. I think it’s very premature to be talking about that sort of thing.”
He added: “Certainly the Cheltenham Festival should be going ahead.”
Asked if he’d be happy for a 70-year-old relative to go to watch a football match he said: “Yes of course. We will be driven by the evidence on it.”
Mr Dowden insisted the Government is following the advice of health officials and, while the situation is kept under review, there is currently "no need" to cancel big events or for people to avoid museums or other public places.
He told BBC Breakfast: "There's no reason for people either not to attend such events or to cancel them at this stage, but we keep it under review."
At the weekend, Italy imposed restrictions attempting to lock down some 16 million people for nearly a month in a bid to stop the spread of the disease.
Sunday saw Italy's biggest daily increase in cases of the virus since its outbreak began last month, and the country's death toll has risen to more than 360.
France, where more than 1,100 cases have been recorded and 19 people have died, has announced a ban on events of more than 1,000 people.
In the wake of images of empty supermarket shelves, Mr Dowden said the Government is in "constant contact" with major retailers to ensure supplies are available and that shelves are restocked as necessary.
He told BBC Breakfast: "There is absolutely no need for anybody to stockpile or anything like that.
"We are confident that the supermarkets have the supply chains necessary to keep shelves stocked for people, so there really is no need for that (bulk-buying) to happen."
Former chancellor George Osborne said he would focus this week's Budget on helping steady the economy during the coronavirus outbreak if he was still in Number 11.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, I would make this a Budget for the coronavirus, I would do everything I could to vaccinate the economy against what is going to happen.
"If we can't vaccinate people against what is going to happen, I would provide the cash for businesses and individuals that don't have it at the moment because of the impact of the virus, and try and provide that immunity to the economy going forward."
Mr Osborne said the money needs to be made available immediately to businesses that have been hit by a "short-term" downturn in their profits or with sick staff.
"If I was chancellor, and I'm sure Rishi (Sunak) is thinking like this, I don't want some complicated scheme that is going to be working in six months' time," he said.
"I need to use the tools that are available to me right now to help people who are unable to work because their business has shut or they are self-isolating or they have got the virus, and to help those small and medium-sized businesses that will have very limited cash reserves and therefore could go into bankruptcy.
"It is a short-term help. It is not like we are going to have 10 years of this."
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