The Government is preparing to mobilise an army of three million healthcare volunteers to battle coronavirus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is calling on people willing to give up a few hours to help out in hospitals, nursing homes and community centres to fall in.
They may also make home visits, help with admin or repair work or do fundraising.
Mr Hancock has said he will guarantee volunteers’ permanent jobs for a month in the event that Covid-19 reaches pandemic proportions.
It came as a further 42 UK cases were confirmed yesterday, bringing the total number diagnosed to 206.
Two patients have died – a man in his 80s and a woman in her 70s.
Mr Hancock said: “I want to ensure Government is doing everything in its power to be ready to mitigate this threat.
Public safety is my priority. Responding to coronavirus is a massive national effort.”
It has yet to be decided who will pay volunteers’ wages and Mr Hancock will thrash details out with business chiefs.
The Health Secretary spoke as it emerged the Government could be put on lockdown over the virus threat, with civil servants ordered to work from home.
We are currently still within the “contain” phase of Whitehall’s strategy to combat the disease – but are expected to enter the “delay” phase this week.
That is when emergency measures will be fast-tracked through Parliament.
The final phase will be “mitigate”, arrived at when our chief medical officers confirm that we are in the clutches of a full-blown pandemic.
A source said Whitehall chiefs discussed the idea of shutting offices at that point, so most of the 430,000-strong team of civil servants will work remotely.
The mitigate phase would also see magistrates conduct proceedings via video links and doctors and nurses being called out of retirement.
Any emergency powers brought in will be available for the next two years before running out.
A Whitehall lockdown could trigger similar moves by businesses across the land, some of which have already sent staff home after cases were confirmed.
Facebook said it would be closing three London offices after a worker based in Singapore tested positive for Covid-19 after visiting the sites late last month.
Workers were also sent home from TechHub’s co-working site in the capital, which can house as many as 400 companies, on Friday.
It came a day after more than a thousand workers in Canary Wharf, East London, were evacuated or told to work from home.
S&P Global and HSBC both told staff to stay away from offices.
Last week 500 more NHS 111 responders were trained to deal with extra calls.
Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will meet sports bodies tomorrow to discuss whether events should be held behind closed doors.
And Environment Secretary George Eustice will meet retail chiefs to decide whether the curfew on supermarket deliveries can be lifted to help the sector better cater for the crisis.
Some 40 per cent of supermarkets are currently banned from receiving deliveries between 10pm and 7am, and others from midnight. This is to reduce the noise annoyance for people living nearby.
Retail bosses also want the Government to share data on coronavirus hotspots so that they can prioritise supplies.
And trade unions have demanded statutory sick pay be extended to all workers after the Government said it would be paid from day one instead of day four.
It is paid only to those on an average of £118 per week before tax.
A Cabinet Office spokesman stressed that civil servants are not yet being asked to work from home.
They said: “We are continuing to work closely across Government to ensure we are ready for all eventualities.
Our approach will be guided by the best scientific evidence and medical advice and we will take all necessary measures to deal with
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