The UK must be prepared for the "worst-case scenario" as the coronavirus crisis continues to escalate worldwide, a professor has warned.

Health officials have put 24 UK hospitals on standby to treat patients thought to be infected with special measures in place to keep the virus isolated.

The hospitals have been instructed to prepare airtight rooms and set up "decontamination teams" to stop the spread if patients are treated for the COVID-19 virus onsite, The Sun reports.

NHS 111 services may also be ramped up to deal with calls from people who think they have the virus.

The warning comes as the first death from the virus outside of Asia has been reported in Paris.

The victim is believed to be an 80-year-old man from the Hubei Province in China, who was quarantined in a Paris hospital on January 25 after he showed symptoms of the illness.

A woman wearing a face mask on the London Underground

Jonathan Ball, professor of virology at Nottingham University, tweeted: "We can't bury our heads in the sand."

He said: “It is worth remembering that high dependency and intensive care beds are used to near full-capacity in the NHS.

“The last flu pandemic was a variety of H1N1, so levels of cross-protective immunity in UK population would be higher than they would be to a totally new virus; something like ncov2019.

“The UK population has zero immunity to ncov2019; therefore IF the virus threat grows, our existing systems would not cope as well as we would hope."

He added the coronavirus could be more difficult to contain than SARS and Britain should be "properly prepared for the worst-case scenario."

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Professor Ball said the British public has no immunity to the coronavirus so existing systems may not cope if the virus spreads.

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People presenting flu-like symptoms will be told to stay indoors and self-isolate for two weeks if the number of cases in the UK reaches the hundreds.

The Department of Health confirmed this afternoon that 3109 people in the UK have now been tested for the coronavirus in the UK.

Nine of those tests have come back positive.