The Guardian view on the coronavirus outbreak: leadership is required | Editorial

Managing the economic and health risks of Covid-19 is difficult. In the UK, as elsewhere, ministers must step up

A passenger on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan became the first Briton to die of the Covid-19 coronavirus on Friday. Further UK cases beyond the 20 already confirmed are expected, while countries including Mexico, Nigeria and Denmark have announced their first positive tests. The World Health Organization assesses the level of risk as “very high at global level”. But the scale and impact of the Covid-19 outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, in December, remain deeply uncertain. That is because whle viral outbreaks have happened before, each one is different. While severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) had a higher death rate, Covid-19 appears to be more contagious. Its spread is already being determined in hard-to-predict ways by human behaviour.

To limit the damage as far as possible, trust and information are of the essence. In the UK, as elsewhere, it is imperative that the government, and other public bodies, provide straightforward advice about travel and sanitation as well as the disease. For the health secretary, Matt Hancock, to say earlier this week that he would not travel to northern Italy was unwise because it contradicted official guidance. Instead, ministers must lead by example.

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