The start of the UK peak of the coronavirus epidemic is expected within the next fortnight, England’s deputy chief medical officer has said, as cases rose to 373 and a sixth death was announced.
Dr Jenny Harries defended the Government’s decision to delay closing schools and the introduction of other stringent tactics, saying experts are assessing new cases on an hourly basis to achieve a “balanced response”.
But new measures – including those aimed at protecting the elderly and vulnerable – are expected shortly as cases rise more rapidly across the UK.
British nationals on the Grand Princess cruise ship at the Port of Oakland, California, will be flown back to the UK on Wednesday and will go into self-isolation.
There were no handshakes from the Queen as she held an audience at Buckingham Palace
The latest figures show that 373 people in the UK are now confirmed to have Covid-19 as of 9am on Tuesday, up from 319 the day before, and six people have died in British hospitals.
Spain shut down schools in several regions, suspended flights from Italy and closed the lower house of parliament for at least a week after a lawmaker tested positive for the coronavirus, in the hope of stemming a growing outbreak.
The government recommended avoiding travel both within and outside Spain and banned indoor gatherings of more than 1,000 people in the regions most affected by the virus - Madrid, the Rioja wine-growing region and two areas in the northern Basque Country.
"We are working on avoiding the Italian scenario," Health Minister Salvador Illa told reporters. "With these measures we believe that we can avoid it. And if we have to take additional measures, we will take them."
Spain, the euro zone's fourth-largest economy, reported 35 deaths and 1,622 confirmed coronavirus cases on Tuesday, a ten-fold increase in cases in a week.
The closure of schools - from kindergarten to universities - in Madrid will affect at least 1.53 million pupils and students, regional authorities said, with tens of thousands more affected by school shutdowns in Rioja and in the Basque country.
Madrid schoolchildren, at least the oldest ones, will get online classes from Monday, a regional official said.
While Italy extended coronavirus travel restrictions to the whole country on Tuesday, with soldiers and police enforcing the bans.
Overall, Italy has recorded 9,172 cases of Covid-19, with 463 deaths, and figures expected to rise.
Shops and restaurants closed, hundreds of flights were cancelled and streets emptied across Italy on Tuesday, the first day of an unprecedented, nationwide lockdown imposed to slow Europe's worst outbreak of coronavirus.
The government has told all Italians to stay at home and avoid all non-essential travel until April 3, dramatically widening steps already taken in much of the wealthy north, which is the epicentre of the spreading contagion.
"Our civic duty is the only thing that can save us," said Marzio Tonilo, 35, a teacher from the northern town of San Fiorano, which was placed under quarantine last month.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte unexpectedly expanded the so-called red zone to the entire country on Monday night, introducing the most severe controls on a Western nation since World War Two.
The disease has touched most of the country and the government is worried that if it worsens, the health system in the less developed south will collapse, causing deaths to spike.
Rome landmarks including the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps were largely empty on Tuesday, while the Vatican closed St. Peter's Square and St. Peter's Basilica to tourists. Police told tourists to return to their hotels.
For at least the next three weeks, anyone travelling in Italy will have to carry a document declaring their reasons. Outdoor events, including sports fixtures, have been suspended and schools and universities are all shuttered.
A former Treasury chief economist predicted that the lockdown measures were reducing Italy's economic output by around 10-15pc, with the tourism and transport sectors down about 90pc on their normal levels.
Looking to mitigate the impact on ordinary Italians, the government is considering making banks offer customers a pause in their mortgage repayments. It also called for the European Union to relax its rules to allow more state spending.
"We will ask for the rules to be changed, it is a necessary condition, otherwise people will die," Industry Minister Stefano Patuanelli told Radio Capital.
On Monday, the Milan stock exchange dropped over 11pc and Italy's borrowing costs shot up, reviving fears that an economy already on the brink of recession and struggling under the euro zone's second-heaviest debt pile could be plunged into crisis.
Some calm returned to the market on Tuesday, with the Milan bourse down just 0.6pc by mid-afternoon.
In the wake of the clampdown, neighbouring Austria said it would deny entry to people arriving from Italy, while British Airways cancelled all flights to and from the country. Spain said it was banning flights out of Italy.
The coronavirus first emerged in China last year and the country's foreign ministry said on Tuesday its top diplomat, Wang Yi, had called his Italian counterpart, Luigi Di Maio, to offer his condolences for the situation in Italy.
He said he would increase efforts to send Italy more masks, and medical equipment, and also offered to send a medical team.
THE rugby season has been thrown into further chaos with confirmation that Guinness PRO14 games involving Italian clubs in March will be postponed, while Six Nations officials have confirmed that Ireland's Women's and U-20s matches against France will also be put back.