British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stepped up the response to the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday, moving to the so called "delay phase" which includes the option of more stringent measures designed to slow down the spread of the virus.
Stock markets tumbled across the world, with Britain's FTSE 100 down 10.9 per cent, its worst one-day performance since 1987. Sterling fell three cents against the dollar, the biggest fall since the 2016 Brexit vote.
At a meeting of Britain's emergency committee, known as COBR, Johnson decided to move to the so called "delay phase" from the "contain phase".
"We are now getting onto the next phase," Johnson said.
"This is now not just an attempt to contain the disease as far as possible but to delay its spread."
He said those showing symptoms of having the virus should self-isolate for at least a week.
The British plan for dealing with the outbreak has three main phases - containment, delay and mitigation. In the delay phase, so called social distancing measures such as school closures, more home working and reducing large scale gathering will be considered, though will not necessarily be approved immediately.
Johnson said he was not closing schools at the present time but that advice on schools could change as the virus spreads. The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus across the United Kingdom rose 29 per cent per cent to 590 over the past 24 hours. A total of 10 people with coronavirus have died in the United Kingdom since the outbreak.
Ireland will shut schools, universities and childcare facilities until March 29 and restrict mass gathering to slow the spread of the coronavirus, acting Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Thursday.