Face-to-face assessments for sickness and disability welfare payments will be suspended for three months to protect vulnerable claimants from coronavirus.

The Department of Work and Pensions said the temporary move will come into effect from Tuesday as ministers ramp up efforts to stymie the spread of Covid-19.

It is hoped that binning the face-to-face meetings will protect claimants from potentially catching the virus.

So far, 35 people have died after testing positive for the virus in the UK, with 1,391 cases recorded.

Ministers are considering an array of measures including telling over-70s to stay at home for up to four months to shield them from the disease and a ban on mass gatherings.

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Boris Johnson is set to chair another meeting of Cobra on Tuesday as he faces growing unease from the public at the UK's perceived inaction compared with other European countries already on strict lockdowns.

All elite football and other sporting events have been cancelled in the UK, but schools remain open and there has not yet been any ban on mass gatherings of more than 500 people, which it is thought is imminent.

Claimants with face-to-face appointments booked will be contacted to discuss alternative arrangements, which could include telephone or paper-based assessments.

The plan will apply to claimants of personal independence payments, employment and support allowance, some on Universal Credit and those on industrial injuries schemes.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said: "Temporarily suspending face-to-face assessments for sickness and disability benefits will allow us to ensure we continue to provide a safety net for those in need, while removing unnecessary risk of exposure to this disease."

This is the latest change in the welfare system announced in the fight against the coronavirus.

Statutory sick pay is now payable from the first day of illness instead of the fourth in a bid to support those who are self-isolating to slow the spread.

But the Government has been facing calls to increase the payment level from £94.25 a week and ensure there is support for the two million low-paid workers who are not eligible.

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