The UK’s largest independent hotel chain, Best Western, is to enter discussions with the government about turning its properties into temporary hospitals.

The possibility emerged after health secretary Matt Hancock said at the weekend officials were planning to use empty hotels to increase NHS capacity as coronavirus spreads.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK stands at 1,391, with deaths hitting 35 over the weekend.

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The true number of cases in the UK is thought to be many times higher and the country remains tenth on the list of countries currently suffering from the global pandemic.

The UK is feared to be a few weeks behind Italy, which has 24,747 confirmed cases and 1,809 deaths, making it the second most badly impacted country behind China.

Many hotels in the UK have seen a significant reduction in businesses as travellers cancel trips and bookings dry up.

Rob Paterson, chief executive officer of Best Western Great Britain, said: “We are in unprecedented territory so we would be willing to take unprecedented steps to support the national effort.

“If the NHS wants additional bed space, and we can partner with other companies to provide the right medical equipment and supplies, and we can do it safely, then we would be willing to start having those conversations immediately. Whatever we can do to help.”

Hancock told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme on Sunday: “Some people are saying ‘should you build a hospital?’

“Actually, we’ve seen that many hotels are empty so we’ve got ready-built facilities for looking after people.

“But the critical thing is that they need oxygen supply and the ventilation equipment – whether it’s the invasive ventilation or just the mask on your face.

“So what matters is not just the space, it’s making sure that the equipment and the trained staff are there as well.

“There is a massive effort going on to try to make sure that capacity is as big as possible.”