Thousands of British troops are on standby to help keep the UK functioning if coronavirus hits “peak virus” next month.
Under the codename Operation Rescript, Lieutenant-General Tyrone Urch has drawn up contingency plans to keep supermarkets shelves full and petrol stations topped up with fuel.
Hundreds of Army drivers could be drafted in to keep the nation supplied with food and fuel.
Other service personnel will be brought in to work with all three emergency services if sickness depletes their numbers.
Royal Military Police could help support local constabularies, while troops may be used to drive ambulances and fire engines.
And 38 liaison officers are already working with regional authorities to identify how they can assist in the crisis.
Meanwhile Boris Johnson ordered the NHS to buy up thousands of private hospital beds as the coronavirus death toll doubled to 21 today.
The PM has told health equipment firms to move heaven and earth to churn out as many life-saving ventilators as they can.
With 10 more deaths in the last 24 hours the nation is now moving on to a wartime footing.
Gatherings of 500 or more people face being banned this week and school closures came a step nearer.
The plan to pay the private sector £300 a day for a bed followed demands earlier in the day by Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth and the GMB union.
They said the PM must requisition private hospital beds to ease pressure on the NHS.
The 128,000 overnight beds in NHS hospitals are expected to be overwhelmed by coronavirus patients.
And there are 570 private hospitals in the UK and around 8,000 beds available in the private sector.
If they are all taken over that will cost the NHS £2.4million a day paid for out of the £30billion Chancellor Rishi Sunak set aside in last week’s Budget to fight the virus.
Mr Ashworth said: “The PM said this is the worst public health crisis for a generation
“It would be completely wrong for the Government not to call on all the resources possible.”
A deal has already been done with private health provider Spire which has 39 private hospitals across the UK.
GMB General Secretary Tim Roache added: “It can’t be right that we have plush private hospitals lying empty waiting for the wealthy to fall ill, while people are left in dying in hospitals for the want of a bed.”
London regional organiser Warren Kenny said: “Using these beds to divert non-coronavirus-related treatments from NHS hospitals may make sense.”
NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “The scale of the challenge we face means we can’t do this alone.
“We need every part of society and every industry to ask what they can do to help the effort.”
The Unipart Group is already answering the PM’s call to provide extra ventilator.
Unipart chairman John Neill said: “This is a critical initiative. There are a lot of talented people already working at great speed on this. It has my and other’s full-hearted support.”
The next stage of the battle against the virus will be to tell the elderly and vulnerable to self-isolate even if they are not ill.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said: “We are dealing with a very fast moving epidemic. Scientists across the world are helping each other, governments and society to deal with this international emergency.”
Mr Johnson spoke to his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison and agreed more healthcare equipment is needed worldwide.
Meanwhile supermarkets took out full-page ads in today’s newspapers begging shoppers not to panic buy.
And Environment Secretary George Eustice will meet retail bosses again tomorrow to thrash out more measures to keep food supplies moving. MPs have been given a phone number by Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle to call for specialist advice.
At least 13 MPs have now self-isolated, including Tory Andrew Bridgen who began feeling unwell after sitting next to Covid-19 victim Nadine Dorries, the Health minister, in the Commons tea room.
Mr Bridgen, 55, who has an 18-month-old son, said he had been promised a test but was still waiting for it 72 hours later.
He added: “I’m never ill but I feel really rough now. It’s not knowing which is the worst part. I’m at one end of the house and my family is at the other.”
Security Minister James Brokenshire is also self-isolating for seven days after meeting Australian Interior Minister Peter Dutton who tested positives.
Face-to-face Brexit talks in London this week have been cancelled.
A hundred Brussels trade experts led by chief EU negotiator Michel Barmier will now try to continue talks via video conference call.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tonight demanded an urgent meeting with Mr Johnson to agree emergency help for low-paid victims.
Mr Corbyn wants rent deferrals and mortgage holidays, higher statutory sick pay, and income protection for the poorly-paid and self-employed.
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