Rory Stewart suggests schools should be SHUT to tackle coronavirus

Ex-Cabinet minister Rory Stewart suggests schools and public transport networks should be SHUT DOWN early in coronavirus outbreak saying government must learn lessons from China and Ebola

  • Rory Stewart said the government needed to take tough decision without delay
  • Ex-Tory minister said ‘short-term economic damage’ worth it to stop outbreak
  • Independent London mayor candidate compared coronavirus to spread of Ebola 

Ministers should close schools and public transport networks sooner rather than later if they are to slow the spread of coronavirus, London mayor candidate Rory Stewart has suggested. 

The former Tory Cabinet minister said the government needed to resist the ‘huge temptation’ to put off taking ‘very costly’ action. 

He said the ‘short-term economic damage’ which would be caused by such measures would be ‘definitely worth doing if you can stave off the bigger spread’ of the virus in the UK. 

Mr Stewart argued the spread of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo – which he saw when he was in the Cabinet as international development secretary – showed ‘you have to act early’ as he also praised China’s approach to coronavirus.

His comments came as Boris Johnson today held an emergency Cobra committee meeting to discuss the UK’s response to the spread of the deadly disease. 

Confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK have now hit 278, with more than 23,500 people tested.

Rory Stewart, pictured in London on March 6, said ‘you have to act early’ to combat the spread of deadly diseases

Mr Stewart told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour programme: ‘The problem around these tables if you’re sitting at a Cobra meeting is the expert advice is never quite definitive, people are learning all the time. 

‘And therefore there is always a huge temptation to delay action particularly when you understand that action is going to be very costly. 

‘So a question such as “what is the point you shut schools” or ultimately what is the point at which you shut a public transport system, there will be so many voices around the table who are going to be pushing to say let’s just give it another day or two. 

‘My experience watching people deal with Ebola in the eastern Democratic Congo and indeed with other situations is you have to act early… I think there’s something very interesting about what’s going on in China. 

‘If you look at the projections being made worldwide for mortality rates it doesn’t at the moment look as though China is going to hit those kind of rates and my sense is aggressive containment and taking short-term economic damage is definitely worth doing if you can stave off the bigger spread.’ 

However, the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden today said it would be ‘premature’ to shut the UK’s museums and galleries or to ban mass gatherings of people as some other countries have now done. 

Mr Dowden 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.

Oliver Dowden, pictured in Downing Street on March 3, said the UK currently has no plans to ban large gatherings of people

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.

But Mr Dowden said the UK has no current plans to follow suit. 

He said: ‘We work on the basis of the evidence, particularly from the chief medical officer, and there is no advice to suggest that we should be doing that. We are clear that we don’t need to cut down the number of people attending events.

‘We shouldn’t be cancelling events at this stage, but I just say as a caution that we do keep these things under review and that may change in the future but we certainly have no plans at this stage to take any such steps.’ 

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