ESSEX is likely to see a surge in coronavirus cases as the virus takes hold in the UK, experts have warned.

It comes as four more people were diagnosed with the condition in England yesterday.

The new cases – in Kent, Hertfordshire and Devon – had all travelled to Italy, which is suffering the biggest outbreak in Europe, and bring the UK’s total number of cases to 40.

It comes after the first case of the virus was confirmed in Essex on Sunday.

Worryingly, the patient was the first in the UK not to have returned from one of the affected areas.

Although Public Health England is not commenting directly on confirmed cases in the UK, it is understood the patient was treated initially at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, in Harlow.

Council leaders have now spoken out to urge calm, telling residents that the best thing they can do is to follow official NHS advice.

Southend Council’s deputy leader, Independent Councillor Ron Woodley, said: “No one has contacted me to say this case was in Southend and I would expect that if it was here someone from the health department would share that information.

“We are hoping that as the weather gets warmer, this will die off but the best thing people can do for now is to watch their personal hygiene and take precautions, such as washing hands, sneezing into a tissue and being particularly careful if you are attending an event.

“Essex is likely to get more cases, just as the rest of the country is likely to get more but I don’t think people need to panic.

“There is no point in guessing or asking what ifs. Let’s just see what happens and take in government advice.”

Basildon’s deputy council leader, Independent Kerry Smith, was also confident the reported case was not in the town.

“There is nothing in Basildon.

I’ve not heard anything and I would expect to have been told by now if it was,” he said.

“Right now, people just need to follow the advice of the health authorities. Make sure your hands are clean. If everybody does that it cuts the risk down.

“Keep your hands clean before touching your mouth or eyes.”

Conservative Norman Smith, leader of Castle Point Council, said: “The virus is definitely 100 per cent not in Castle Point.

“I had a meeting today with our chief executive and will be in more talks tomorrow. We’ve had no information to say the disease is in our borough. I am of course looking closely at the situation to see how we will react if it comes to our borough.

“We have colleges, schools and sports facilities such as swimming pools and these will have to be looked at if there was a case. I am glad nothing has happened yet but we have a strategy in place just in case.

“My advice would be the same as that of national health bosses, this includes self-isolation if you’ve come back from an affected area. We must also be regularly washing our hands and taking the proper precautions. We are making sure we are prepared for this.”

On Sunday the leader of Colchester Council, Liberal Dem Mark Cory, also confirmed that he had been briefed of a case in Essex but said it is not in Colchester.

Thurrock Council, Rochford Council and Public Health England were contacted for comment.

Some have compared the severity of Covid-19 to the flu but while both are infectious respiratory illnesses, a Chinese study found the coronavirus to have a death rate of 2.3 per cent while the death rate from flu is below 1 per cent.

Unlike seasonal flu, there is also no vaccine for Covid-19 and very little information such as a proper understanding of how it is transmitted and how long it takes for people to display symptoms.

'Battle plan' to be published today

A “BATTLE plan” is due to be published today by the Government and could outline a ban on mass gatherings across the country.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to outline the plans this morning. The proposals will “be guided by scientific advice”.

The announcement came as Mr Johnson warned more cases in the UK are likely as he urged people to wash their hands to the tune of Happy Birthday.

Speaking after an emergency Cobra meeting where ministers gathered to discuss the “battle plan”, Mr Johnson said the spread of the coronavirus was “likely” to become “more significant” for the UK in the coming days.

He said: “We have also agreed a plan so that if and when it starts to spread, as I’m afraid it looks likely it will, we are in a position to take the steps necessary to contain the spread of the disease as far as we can, and to protect the most vulnerable.”

He said closing schools and banning mass gatherings would only be taken on scientific advice, adding: “The most important thing for people to understand is that measures will be guided by scientific advice.

“All four nations of the UK and the chief medical officers are involved in this and they will be helping us to take key decisions on when and how to take protective steps.

“We cannot forget that the single most useful thing that we can all do to support the NHS is to wash our hands, two times to Happy Birthday, with hot water.

“It’s very important that people should continue doing that and they should go about business as usual.”

Legislation allowing the Government to use extra powers to help control the virus is expected to go through Parliament by the end of the month.

Measures could potentially include asking retired doctors and nurses to return to the NHS, urging people to work from home, closing schools, increasing class sizes and cancelling large public events.

Anyone who suspects they have the illness should call 111 or use the NHS’ online coronavirus service.