Rory Stewart has cancelled his London mayoral campaign launch next week because of coronavirus.

The independent mayoral candidate says the country “has to take coronavirus seriously” and should pause all large gatherings.

Around 1,000 people were due to attend the former Conservative leadership hopeful’s event. He says he will host a digital launch instead.

Covid-19 is a strain of coronavirus first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan – it has since spread to countries across the world, including the UK.

The disease has caused more than 4,000 deaths so far, with well over 100,000 people infected.

The World Health Organisation has said that it could have a mortality rate of 3.4 per cent, based on the number of officially confirmed cases so far.

But Britain’s chief medical officer says mortality could be one per cent or less, because those with very mild symptoms may not know they have the virus.

This would put the death rate more in line with seasonal illnesses like flu.

As of yesterday (Tuesday), there are 373 confirmed cases of the virus in the UK, and six patients have died.

Mr Stewart has called on the Government to close schools and consider shutting down the Tube to tackle the disease.

Earlier this week, he attacked the “half-hearted” action from ministers as a “serious mistake”.

He said: “The Government and the Mayor keep saying they are simply following ‘scientific advice’.

“But the scientists are clear that this is now a political decision – on whether the Government are prepared to spend very serious sums of money, and take a large economic hit, to maximise protection of the population.

“China shows both the dangers of acting too slowly – at first – and then the benefits of acting decisively.

“We should have no regrets about spending money to do the absolute maximum to prevent the spread of this disease.”

But other Mayoral candidates have criticised Mr Stewart’s comments, saying he risks spreading fear and panic.

Liberal Democrat Siobhan Benita said “sowing distrust in expert advice” was “highly irresponsible and will cause distress and confusion”.

She said: “To give advice based on ‘instinct’ and not the latest evidence, is both highly arrogant and potentially dangerous. This is not a game.”

Ms Benita said she would support school closures if experts advised it – but the impact on parents should be properly considered.

Conservative Shaun Bailey said it was “crucial” that Londoners listened to experts.

He said: “Now is the time to listen to Government guidance and observe best practice as advised by medical and scientific experts.

“Given and many as one in five workers could be off sick, I have called for Sadiq Khan to enact contingency measures – such as hiring retired police officers – to ensure the Met remains at full strength and is able to fight crime during the coronavirus outbreak.”

Green mayoral candidate Sian Berry said: “Coronavirus is a serious public health issue and we need to trust the medical guidance on this.

She said: “From previous jobs I too know a little about epidemiology and disease control, but having only a little knowledge is precisely why I am not weighing in or pushing political points on this crisis.

“Party politics should also not get in the way of the Mayor of London being invited to emergency planning meetings with the Government.”

A spokesperson for Mr Khan said that Mayor “acts on advice from the experts, not on instinct”.  

He said: “We are working with others to make sure that London is prepared for an increase of cases, and that as a city we are ready to take any additional measures that health experts deem necessary.

“The Mayor is in constant contact with experts at Public Health England and at the point the situation and therefore the health advice changes, he will communicate that to Londoners immediately.”