Coronavirus has put Britain on the brink of a nationwide shortage of paracetamol in a “perfect storm” of panic buying and supply issues.
Paracetamol stocks could be impacted due to problems sourcing the painkiller’s key ingredient from China – becoming the latest item to face a shortage.
And this combined with fearful Brits clearing shelves to help them stock up for a full blown epidemic could live the nation in dire straits.
It comes as the government warned Britain faces the threat of a full blown pandemic as the number of infected rose to 51.
A leading UK pharmacist has warned that stocks of the over-the-counter medication are diminishing fast, while Ibuprofen supplies are also running low.
James O’Loan, consulting pharmacist at online firm Doctor-4-U, said he is already seeing the demand outstripping the supply.
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Mr O’Loan said: “The raw ingredient of paracetamol is mainly manufactured in China and with coronavirus having originated from there, it has obviously affected the supply chain,” he said.
“This means that not only paracetamol tablets and capsules could be scarce, but also the wide range of products that contain paracetamol including cold relief brands and children’s medication such as Calpol.
“The other main painkiller, Ibuprofen, is also seeing drastically increased demand and is therefore highly likely to see a shortfall in stock, too.”
High street pharmacies have already reported selling out of hygiene products including hand sanitiser and face masks as fear spreads over the risk of a coronavirus pandemic.
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With more and more people self isolating in an attempt to avoid contracting the virus, online services such as Doctor-4-U are expected to see an even greater demand for supplies.
NHS advice on coronavirus includes washing hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water, covering your mouth when you sneeze, avoiding touching your mouth, nose and hands and putting used tissues straight into the bin.
It comes as Boris Johnson unveiled Britain’s so-called “battle plan” to fight back against coronavirus.
The virus – which originated in China – has spread globally, with more than 90,000 people infected worldwide and 3,000 dead.
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Downing Street unveiled the 27-page document setting out the UK’s response to a large scale pandemic.
It was warned up to one in five workers in the UK could be off sick during a coronavirus peak, while the police may switch to only dealing with serious crime.
Other measures included the cancellation of non-urgent operations and retired NHS staff being called "back to duty".
In a worst case scenario, up to 80% of the population could become infected, with people in hospital with pneumonia and a relatively high death rate among the elderly and frail.
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The document sets out possible strategies for delaying spread of the virus including school closures, "reducing the number of large-scale gatherings" and encouraging greater home working.
The military could also provide support to emergency services if needed, it says.
Launching the plan at a Downing Street press conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had "no doubt at all" that the "country is going to get through coronavirus, and get through it in good shape".
He said it was "highly likely" the UK would see more widespread infection than at present, but added: "Let me be absolutely clear that for the overwhelming majority of people who contract the virus, this will be a mild disease from which they will speedily and fully recover, as we have already seen."
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Mr Johnson told reporters that "keeping the country safe is the Government's overriding priority", and the plan shows "we are committed to doing everything possible".
It comes a day after NHS England ordered all hospitals to review their numbers of intensive care beds and how they could be increased to cope with a surge in patients.
In a letter sent to bosses on Monday, NHS strategic incident director Keith Willett said a level four incident had been declared – the highest category – and that patients infected with coronavirus could soon start to be treated on hospital wards as the numbers affected grow.
Hospital chiefs have been told to draw up plans to segregate wards such as A&E departments in the event of a "significant escalation" in cases.
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All adults and children in intensive care with any kind of respiratory infection must also now be tested for the virus.
During Tuesday's press conference, Mr Johnson pointed to "long-established plans" by which the police would keep the public safe but would "prioritise those things that they have to do".
He added: "And the army is of course always ready to back-fill as and when, but that is under the reasonable worst case scenario."
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Mr Johnson also told reporters he continues to shake hands with the people he meets.
He said: "I am shaking hands, I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were coronavirus patients and I was shaking hands with everybody you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands.
"People must make up their own minds but I think the scientific evidence is … our judgment is that washing your hands is the crucial thing."
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