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Downing Street to launch new unit to tackle fake news on coronavirus

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Downing Street to launch new unit to tackle fake news on coronavirus

Downing Street has established a new unit to tackle fake news relating to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Whitehall unit has been set up amid fears hostile states could spread misinformation about the deadly disease.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the specialist group would work closely with social media companies to monitor and remove disinformation, while it could also be tasked with taking on scammers seeking to exploit the outbreak.

It comes after the total confirmed cases in the UK rose from 209 to 278 - the largest daily rise so far.

Dowden said: “Defending the country from misinformation and digital interference is a top priority.

“As part of our ongoing work to tackle these threats we have brought together expert teams to make sure we can respond effectively should these threats be identified in relation to the spread of Covid-19.

“This work includes regular engagement with the social media companies, which are well placed to monitor interference and limit the spread of disinformation, and will make sure we are on the front foot to act if required."

It comes as Boris Johnson prepares to chair another meeting of the Government's emergency Cobra committee on Monday morning.

The group is expected to decide what further measures to take should medical experts advise that the UK moves to the 'delay' phase of its coronavirus plan.

That could include school closures, banning major sporting events and encouraging more people to work from home in a bid to slow the spread of the disease.

Any formal move to the 'delay' stage must be taken by the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser, but government officials have already accelerated planning following advice it was "highly likely" there would be a significant spread of the illness across the country.

Johnson is expected to tell the meeting: "The number of coronavirus cases continues to rise in the UK and around the world.

"We are well prepared and will continue to make decisions to protect the public based on the latest scientific advice.

"Tackling coronavirus will required a national and international effort. I am confident the British people are ready to play their part in that.

"The most valuable thing people can do is wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds."

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