By Arj Singh
Downing Street does not expect 8m people to be hospitalised because of coronavirus.
Boris Johnson‘s official spokesperson insisted the claim, which came from a leaked Public Health England (PHE) briefing that also suggested as many as 80% of Britons could be infected, was a “reasonable worst case scenario”.
The document is a “planning tool” for the government, the spokesperson added.
“It does not mean that is what we expect to happen,” he said.
“A reasonable worst case scenario is what we are planning for and that is what any responsible government would do.
“But that does not mean that’s what we expect to happen.”
The PHE document leaked to the Guardian states that “as many as 80% of the population are expected to be infected with Covid-19 in the next 12 months, and up to 15% (7.9m people) may require hospitalisation”.
The spokesman stressed that just because the document uses the word “expected” this does not mean it is what the government thinks will happen.
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The prime minister is expected to provide a coronavirus update later on Monday alongside chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
He will also attempt to bring together world leaders in the G7 on Monday with a conference call to coordinate the global health and economic responses to the outbreak.
The leaders are also expected to discuss coordination with the IMF, World Bank and World Health Organisation.
Domestically, Johnson has asked chancellor Rishi Sunak to chair an “economic and business response committee” to consider the impact of coronavirus on the economy and how the government can respond.
Sunak announced £12bn worth of measures to help the economy through the outbreak in last week’s Budget, as the Office for Budget Responsibility warned that a recession was “quite possible” this year.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) will publish coronavirus modelling and data in the “very near future”, the PM’s spokesman said.
The government is also working on how to improve its coronavirus testing regime and will set out more detail “over the coming days”.
Brexit talks on a trade deal due to begin on Wednesday meanwhile appear under threat with the UK and the EU still exploring options to negotiate via teleconferencing.
The government has insisted it will not extend the standstill transition period which ends on December 31.