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Coronavirus: 163 people test positive as panic-buying grips parts of UK

MORE than 160 people have now tested positive for coronavirus in the UK, in the largest day-on-day increase, as the government moves to give reassurances over food supplies after panic-buying at supermarkets.

In total, 163 people had tested positive for Covid-19 as of 9am today, up from 115 cases reported at the same time yesterday.

It comes as Metro understands that samples taken from an elderly patient who died at Milton Keynes Hospital are being investigated for coronavirus.

Testing area: The interior of an NHS 111 coronavirus pod, for people who believe they may be suffering from the disease PICTURE: GETTY

Yesterday evening another patient, reported to be a woman in her 70s, became the first person in the UK to die after being diagnosed with Covid-19 while at the Royal Berkshire hospital in Reading.

Last week, a British tourist who had been on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan became the first UK citizen to die from the virus.

In other developments:

■ A 43-year-old British businessman has been confirmed with Covid-19 in Thailand, and the Vatican confirmed its first case.

■ A church in Devon has closed after a parishioner was diagnosed with coronavirus, while the Bhaktivedanta Manor Hare Krishna temple near Watford, Hertfordshire, shut after a member tested positive.

■ Two British Airways staff have tested positive. Metro understands they are baggage handlers.

■ Globally, the number of coronavirus cases has passed 100,000, with 3,400 deaths.

Investing to find a vaccine: Prime minister Boris Johnson at the Mologic Laboratory in Bedford today PICTURE: GETTY

■ Prime minister Boris Johnson visited a Bedfordshire laboratory as the government pledged an extra £46million for research into coronavirus vaccines and rapid diagnostic tests.

■ The Royal College of Emergency Medicine cancelled its spring conference in Bournemouth at the end of March.

■ Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said homeless people were at higher risk of coronavirus due to existing health conditions, a lack of handwashing opportunities and an inability to self-isolate.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said the government is working with supermarkets to ensure food supplies as the number of people self-isolating is expected to rise.

He sought to reassure the public following panic-buying in some areas, with supermarkets seeing their shelves cleared of essentials such as toilet roll and paracetamol.

‘Goverment will ensure food supplies’: Health secretary Matt Hancock PICTURE: REUTERS

Speaking on BBC’s Question Time, Mr Hancock said: ‘The government has supplies of the key things that are needed, and, within the food supply, we are absolutely confident that there won’t be a problem there.

‘And, crucially, we are working to make sure that if people are self-isolating, they will be able to get the food and supplies that they need.’

He said there was ‘absolutely no need’ for individuals ‘to go round buying more than they need’.

Downing Street said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had regular meetings with the food industry to discuss risks to the supply chain, with a working group due to meet today.

One supermarket executive told the BBC sales of basics such as pasta and tinned goods had ‘gone through the roof’, adding: ‘While I think people don’t need to panic buy and should just shop normally, I’m not sure the government can guarantee all food supply in all instances.’

No stock left: Almost empty shelves at a supermarket, and below, a chemists, both in London PICTURES: EPA/PA

New blog posts from Public health England (PHE) suggested people may need to get supplies for loved ones if social-distancing measures were brought in and more were told to stay at home.

The posts urged people to ‘plan ahead’, adding: ‘Everyone has a part to play, and we’re asking people to think about what they do in a typical week, how they could limit contact with others if asked to, and how they could help people in their community who might need support if certain social-distancing measures were put in place.

‘This might include helping older relatives and neighbours to get some food in, so that they would have supplies for a week or so if required, ensuring someone would be available to go shopping for them, or arranging for online delivery if they needed it.’

Meanwhile, 142 people from the UK — 121 passengers and 21 crew — are among 3,533 on the Grand Princess cruise ship quarantined off the coast of California.

Princess Cruises said it was following advice from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and samples were collected yesterday from 45 people deemed to be at risk.

Emergency drop: A National Guard helicopter delivered testing kits to quarantined liner the Grand Princess off the coast of California yesterday PICTURE: EPA

It said in a statement: ‘Following guidelines received from the CDC, all guests have been asked to stay in their staterooms while test results are pending.

‘Guests are receiving meal deliveries in their staterooms by room service, and additional television and movie options have been added to in-room programming.’

The cruise ship made a round trip from San Francisco to Mexico last month, after which a cluster of coronavirus cases were identified.

After the liner docked in San Francisco on February 21, thousands of passengers disembarked and thousands boarded. The boat then sailed to Hawaii.

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has said half of all coronavirus cases in the UK are most likely to occur in just a three-week period, with 95 per cent of them over nine weeks.