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Mass Gatherings Could Be Banned To Curb Coronavirus Spread

Emergency laws could be introduced next week.

The UK government is planning to introduce emergency laws next week to ban mass gatherings of more than 500 people in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus.

A Whitehall source said the government has drafted emergency legislation to stop mass gatherings and compensate organisations.

The laws could also give police and immigration officers the power to detain people if they are suspected of being infected and the ability to direct schools to stay open, The Times reported.

The newspaper said the laws could remain in place for two years.

Eleven people have died in the UK after contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, and the number of confirmed infections has reached 798 - an increase of 208 over the last 24 hours.

So far, ministers have resisted a move to ban mass gatherings even though some major sporting events including the London Marathon and all Premier League matches have already been postponed.

Seven Premier League games and 33 Football League fixtures were due to be played today, as well as the final round of Six Nations fixtures, including Wales v Scotland in Cardiff.

The Whitehall source said: "Ministers are working with the chief scientific adviser and chief medical officer on our plan to stop various types of public event, including mass gatherings, beginning next week.

"We are also talking to businesses and other bodies about the timing of moving towards much more widespread working from home."

The Republic of Ireland is to close all schools and childcare facilities and other public spaces like museums, while Scotland has banned gatherings of more than 500.

Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney criticised the UK government this week for allowing the Cheltenham Festival to go ahead.

Tens of thousands of horse racing fans attended Prestbury Park for the showpiece event despite the global coronavirus pandemic.

The Whitehall source said the government, in dealing with coronavirus, has been "concerned" about the burden that large events put on public services including the NHS and police.

The source added: "We have drafted emergency legislation to give the government the powers it needs to deal with coronavirus, including powers to stop mass gatherings and compensate organisations. We will publish this legislation next week."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced new measures on Thursday as the government's coronavirus response escalated to the second phase - moving from trying to contain the virus to delaying its spread.

Anyone with a new persistent cough or a high temperature will now have to self-isolate and stay at home for seven days, and schools are being urged to cancel planned trips abroad.

The UK's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said the government was not looking to "suppress" the disease entirely but to help create a "herd immunity in the UK" while protecting the most vulnerable from it.

He told Sky News around 60% of the UK population will need to become infected with coronavirus in order for society to have such immunity.

Sir Patrick said some of the social distancing measures put in place, including self-isolating for seven days if symptoms develop, were "actually quite extreme".

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