Lib Dem conference cancelled as PM to admit coronavirus cannot be contained

The Liberal Democrat Spring conference in York, due to be held this weekend, has been cancelled due to coronavirus.
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The party was meant to be holding the event from Friday to Sunday, but due to the pandemic officials decided it was too much of a risk.

Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, said: “In these highly unusual circumstances, we have come to the right conclusion to cancel conference.

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“Although it will be disappointing to many members, the party can come together again when the coronavirus threat is over and debate the issues our country faces.

The entrance to the pathology labs at Leeds General Infirmary during the visit of Chancellor Rishi Sunak to view the testing procedures that will be used by the lab when it begins to receive coronavirus samples for testing. Photo: PAThe entrance to the pathology labs at Leeds General Infirmary during the visit of Chancellor Rishi Sunak to view the testing procedures that will be used by the lab when it begins to receive coronavirus samples for testing. Photo: PA
The entrance to the pathology labs at Leeds General Infirmary during the visit of Chancellor Rishi Sunak to view the testing procedures that will be used by the lab when it begins to receive coronavirus samples for testing. Photo: PA

“Liberal Democrats will continue to put forward our case for a more liberal progressive Britain and hold this Conservative government to account.

It comes as Boris Johnson is expected to accept that the coronavirus outbreak can no longer be contained in the UK, signalling the start of the next phase in the battle against Covid-19.

The Prime Minister will chair a Cobra meeting at lunchtime where ministers are expected to agree to move into the "delay" stage of the process.

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Moving to delay would mean social distancing measures could be brought in, such as restricting public gatherings and issuing more widespread advice to stay at home.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak (left) during a visit to the pathology labs at Leeds General Infirmary. to view the procedures that will be used by the lab when it begins to receive coronavirus samples for testing. Photo: PAChancellor Rishi Sunak (left) during a visit to the pathology labs at Leeds General Infirmary. to view the procedures that will be used by the lab when it begins to receive coronavirus samples for testing. Photo: PA
Chancellor Rishi Sunak (left) during a visit to the pathology labs at Leeds General Infirmary. to view the procedures that will be used by the lab when it begins to receive coronavirus samples for testing. Photo: PA

The expected shift in UK policy came as Donald Trump dramatically escalated the US response to the coronavirus pandemic, slapping a travel ban on continental Europe.

The suspension of travel between the United States and Europe - excluding the UK and Ireland - will last for 30 days starting on Friday.

Mr Trump made the announcement in an Oval Office address to the nation, blaming the European Union for not acting quickly enough to address the outbreak of the virus and saying US clusters were "seeded" by European travellers.

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak played down the prospect of the UK imposing similar travel restrictions, but acknowledged the US decision could have a knock-on effect on the British economy.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "With regard to flight bans, we are always guided by the science as we make our decisions here, and the advice we are getting is that there isn't the evidence that interventions like closing borders or travel bans are going to have a material effect on the spread of the infection."

Today’s Cobra meeting comes after eight people with Covid-19 were confirmed to have died in the UK, while the total number of positive cases rose to 460.

A Cabinet minister, who has not been named, was self-isolating while awaiting a test result after coming into contact with health minister Nadine Dorries.

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Ms Dorries is self-isolating at home after being diagnosed with the illness.

A source confirmed fellow health minister Edward Argar is also self-isolating at home "as a precaution" after having lunch with Ms Dorries on Thursday, the day she started to feel unwell.

Mr Sunak told the BBC: "This has obviously now impacted Parliament and government, and we are dealing with it, like all other businesses are going to have to start dealing with it."

Public Health England was carrying out a "very thorough and rigorous process" to trace people who had been in close contact with Ms Dorries, he said.

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Mr Sunak said Mr Trump's decision to halt travel to the US from most of Europe could have a knock-on effect on the UK economy.

Asked about the impact on business and tourism that the ban is likely to have, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The US is still deciding the details of what exactly that means, but you are right.

"As I talked about yesterday, there will be an impact on the demand side of our economy as people are unable to spend in the way they normally would and travel, but it also affects the supply chains for businesses and that impacts the supply side of our economy.

"As those supply chains are disrupted, the productive capacity of our economy will shrink for a period of time.

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"With regard to flight bans, we are always guided by the science as we make our decisions here and the advice we are getting is that there isn't the evidence that interventions like closing borders or travel bans are going to have a material effect on the spread of the infection."

On Wednesday, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said the number of cases outside China has increased 13-fold in the past two weeks, and the number of affected countries has tripled.

He said there had been "alarming levels of inaction" in some parts of the world.