A COMMUTER was spotted wearing a gas mask on the Tube to ward off coronavirus in London – while another wore a PLAGUE doctor costume on the streets of Manchester.
Passengers were taking extreme measures as experts warned last night the deadly bug could put up to seven million Brits in hospital and overwhelm the NHS.
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Fears over the outbreak prompted commuters, tourists and shoppers to wear surgical masks – although experts say they do not stop the virus.
They were spotted on buses and trains in London, and the Manchester joker wore a long-nosed rubber mask like the medieval plague doctors when the Black Death swept Europe.
Yesterday a patient in Surrey became the 20th with coronavirus in the UK – and the first believed to have been infected in this country.
NHS chiefs are making a “battle plan” to cancel operations and ration treatment in a bid to keep hospitals running as the outbreak spreads.
A government plan warns “critical care services may be at risk of being overwhelmed”.
Officials told the Daily Telegraph up to 70 per cent of Britons could catch the virus and 15 per cent of those could end up in hospital.
That would be around 47million infected and seven million in hospital – a tenth of the population – under the worst-case scenario.
Boris Johnson is planning to rush emergency powers through Parliament next week which will give state bodies sweeping powers to act quickly to limit the spread.
Border guards will be able to turn away anyone at airports and ferry terminals, and class size limits will be axed if teachers fall ill.
One MP even suggested Westminster council is planning to turn Hyde Park into a giant morgue.
Previous government documents seen by the Sun warn up to 500,000 Brits could die from the virus, mostly the and elderly and those who are already ill.
There are now 18 infected people in England, one in Northern Ireland and one in Wales.
And yesterday the first Briton died of the Covid-19 illness, a man in his 80s who caught it on the Diamond Princess cruise liner in Japan.
Health bosses warned the new case in Surrey could mean they have lost track of infection chains.
Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said: “It is not yet clear whether they contracted it directly or indirectly from an individual who had recently returned from abroad.
“This is being investigated and contact tracing has begun.
“The patient has been transferred to a specialist NHS infection centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’.”
Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said UK transmission was “always a real possibility”.
He added that, with symptoms very similar to flu, it could be easy for Covid-19 to go under the radar.
Prof Ball said: “This case – a person testing positive for novel coronavirus with no known link to an affected area or known case – marks a new chapter for the UK.
“And it will be crucial to understand where the infection came from to try to prevent more extensive spread.
“This was always a concern – this is a virus that frequently causes symptoms very similar to mild flu or a common cold, and it’s easily transmitted from person to person.”
Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said it was “unsurprising” to see a case of human-to-human transmission in the UK.
He added: “There will be significant efforts to look at how this patient came to be infected, who is the index case in the UK and to see if any there are any other secondary cases.
“Though this is a notable development here in the UK, the overall risks to the public right now remain unchanged.”