Britain’s broadband infrastructure could struggle to cope with millions of people working from home and using applications such as video-conferencing, experts have warned.
One expert has said that the UK’s ageing infrastructure could become “congested” and “blocked” as millions work from home, either due to infection or to avoid it.
The government has predicted that up to a fifth of Britain’s workforce could be off sick at once due to coronavirus, and further workers could stay absent to avoid catching it.
Professor Izzat Darwazeh, of University College London, told The Telegraph: "I doubt that the core network can cope if even tens of thousands of people who work in the City of London are forced to work from home and need access to video-conferencing and trading systems.
"One of the main worries if there's sudden very heavy demand on a network is that parts of it will get completely congested and blocked."
Guidance issued by Public Health England suggested that companies and employees should “consider the option of home working”.
Public Health England has been in discussion with large firms about expanding work from home policies.
Large companies including BT, Deloitte, KPMG and Santander have drawn up plans for expanded home working in the wake of the crisis.
The government announced this week that the UK will remain in the "containment" stage of its response rather than moving to phase two – delay – of the four-part plan to tackle the virus.
The delay stage will mean the government ramping up efforts to delay the spread of the illness, by considering closing schools, postponing or cancelling large-scale gatherings and encouraging people to work from home.
Downing Street said the prime minister "will be guided by the best scientific advice" and that there was no need to cancel sporting events at this stage.
On Monday, the Irish government decided to cancel the St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin after advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team.
But health secretary Matt Hancock said the UK would “make the right choices of which action to pursue at the right moment”.
“The scientific advice is clear: acting too early creates its own risk,” he said. “So we will do what is right to keep people safe. Guided by the science, we will act at the right time.”
Hancock said the NHS was “well prepared”, with record numbers of doctors and nurses.