THE UK'S coronavirus toll has spiked to 20 after yet another patient was diagnosed with the killer bug.
Seven new cases have now been confirmed during the past 24 hours, heightening fears the country could soon be gripped by a spiralling epidemic.
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A further patient in England has tested positive for the new virus and the illness was passed on inside the UK, chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty' said.
He confirmed tonight: "It is not yet clear whether they contracted it directly or indirectly from an individual who had recently returned from abroad.
"This is being investigated and contact tracing has begun. The patient has been transferred to a specialist NHS infection centre at Guy's and St Thomas'.
"The total number of cases in England is now 18. Following confirmed cases in Northern Ireland and Wales, the total number of UK cases is 20."
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) added: "The virus was passed on in the UK but the original source of the virus is unclear at this stage.
"We do not currently have complete understanding of the chain of transmission in this case, but there is no immediately identifiable link to overseas travel.
"Given the recent increases in international case numbers, especially Europe, it is highly likely that we will soon see some instances of community transmission in the UK."
The latest case follows that of a Welsh man, thought to be from Swansea, who was tested "in the community" for the deadly virus after returning from northern Italy before going to hospital in England.
And earlier, two more patients in London were diagnosed with the infection after returning from Iran - which has seen the highest number of deaths outside China.
Medics are now scrambling to find anyone the trio came into contact with to stop the killer bug spreading further.
The British Army is reportedly on standby to step in as the epidemic looms - with barracks bookmarked as potential quarantine zones.
The London patients are being treated at the Royal Free Hospital in London, where a number of infected people are already in quarantine.
Officials have not revealed their age, gender or where exactly they were diagnosed.
It comes as:
There are now more than 82,000 cases worldwide, with almost 2,900 killed by the bug.
A British man has died after contracting coronavirus on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Japan, the country confirmed today.
The victim is the first Brit to die from the virus after the vessel was put on lockdown just off the port of Yokohama.
Dr Giri Shankar, incident director for the Covid-19 outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said: "Public Health Wales is working hard to identify close contacts, and we are taking all appropriate actions to reduce any risk to the public's health."
A high school in Swansea today reassured parents after pupils recently returned from a ski trip to Bormio, Italy.
Forty-eight pupils from Birchgrove Comprehensive were told they could continue attending classes unless they suffered "flu like symptoms".
A spokeswoman for the school said: "The case is not linked to this school. Our school is open today."
There are concerns, too, for a Surrey doctor who has reportedly been taken ill to a specialist hospital.
The doctor hadn't travelled to any virus hotspots such as Iran, northern Italy, China or Tenerife, so it's not clear where he could have contracted it.
However, health officials haven't as yet publicly confirmed his suspected infection.
As his wife is also a GP, Public Health England officials are "contact tracing" patients and others the pair have recently been near, reports The Guardian.
The epidemic has so far infected 20 people in the UK and killed nearly 3,000 globally.
Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned we are at a "tipping point" – with ministers considering cancelling major events and closing schools for at least two months.
Mr Hunt, who now chairs the powerful Commons’ Health Select Committee, said stopping the bug spreading to more than five per cent of Brits would save “hundreds of thousands of lives”.
Speaking on the BBC Today programme, he said: “Even a system as well prepared as the NHS is not going to be able to operate at business as usual, if there's a pandemic.
“Given that we are now at that tipping point, I think the government are rightly starting to explain in more detail what some of those trade-offs might be.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is holding a COBRA meeting to discuss the growing cases of Covid-19 in the UK on Monday.
A "drive-through" virus testing service is set to be launched in London to cope with increasing numbers of people showing symptoms.
The three who tested positive for the deadly infection yesterday had returned from locked-down northern Italy and Tenerife, where 168 Brits are being quarantined in a hotel.
Passengers who sat within two rows of the person from Northern Ireland infected with Covid-19 on the plane from northern Italy to Dublin have been contacted, health authorities said.
The woman followed advice in reporting concerns to a GP, and "self isolated" at home whilst awaiting the results of testing.
Italy has now become the worst affected country in Europe with at least 650 cases and 15 deaths.
Brits have been told they can protect themselves against the virus by simply regularly washing their hands.
But as the panic rises over the rapidly spreading bug, people are rushing to buy household items and set up "isolation" rooms, in case they need to stay at home.
This week the BBC's Nick Robinson has been tested for coronavirus and Channel 4 News' Jon Snow is in isolation after they returned from Vietnam and Iran.
Snow announced he would be in isolation after reporting in Iran - where 34 people have died and 388 have caught the killer bug.
Welsh Chief Medical Officer, Dr Frank Atherton, said today: "I can confirm that one patient in Wales has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).
“All appropriate measures to provide care for the individual and to reduce the risk of transmission to others are being taken.
“I can also confirm that the patient had travelled back to Wales from Northern Italy, where the virus was contracted."
Dr Bharat Pankhania, Senior Clinical Lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “It’s no surprise that the first case of covid-19 has arrived in Wales.
"We expect cases to arise in different parts of the country and the world, and they won’t necessarily be connected with China. They may be secondary cases, generated elsewhere."
EXPERT'S ADVICE TO STEM SPREAD OF CORONAVIRUS IN UK:
Prof Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology, University of Nottingham, said: “Looking at what is happening in many parts of the world – Italy, Iran and South Korea for example – we should get used to the fact that there will be increasing numbers of coronavirus infections detected here in the UK.
"Currently, these can be linked back to travel to a badly affected area, but it is very likely, if not a certainty, that virus will come here under the radar and start to transmit.
“We can all play our part in slowing its spread by being more vigilant about personal hygiene. This is the most effective way to slow the spread of many winter viruses.
"So, if you’ve been to one of the badly affected areas listed on the government website* in the last 14 days, self-isolate and call 111.
"Even if you haven’t travelled anywhere but you have symptoms of a cold or flu, then sneeze or cough into a tissue or the crook of your sleeve.
"Finally, never touch your eyes, nose or mouth unless you’ve cleaned your hands using soap and water or, if you can’t get to a sink, using a hand cleaning gel.
"This is a virus that is most likely going to end up on your fingers and thumbs or the palms of your hands, so make sure at least these parts of your hands are thoroughly cleaned.”
Brits are facing months of coronavirus chaos with sporting events, gigs and schools on lockdown to stop the spread of the killer bug.
Professor Whitty has said the UK will have to consider axing mass gatherings if the "virus intensifies".
An emergency shutdown could mean this summer's Euros tournament, Premier League games, the FA Cup Final, Grand National and Glastonbury are all under threat.
Even the famous April London Marathon could be called off as organisers say said they are "monitoring" the situation.
The multiple new patients come as thousands of Brits face mass coronavirus testing at GP surgeries as officials prepare for a worst-case scenario that could see 500,000 die.
Ministers are now considering the assumption that more than 50million people in the UK could catch the killer bug.
A memo seen by The Sun earlier in the week night states that the “reasonable worst case” involves “up to 80 per cent of the population being infected”.
Professor Whitty yesterday warned it is "just a matter of time" before the UK is gripped by the epidemic.
He said: "One of the things that's really clear with this virus, much more so than flu, is that anything we do we're going to have to do for quite a long period of time, probably more than two months."
He warned there would be a huge 'social' cost if the virus continues to intensify and spread further throughout the country.
So far in the UK, more than 7,690 people have been tested for the virus and of the 19 to have tested positive, eight have so far been discharged from hospital.
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In China, where the virus originated, 78,497 cases have been reported, including 2,744 deaths.
World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus told a press conference in Geneva on Thursday that the coronavirus has the potential to become a global pandemic.
Public health advice remains to wash hands with soap, not rub the face and maintain a distance from people who are coughing and sneezing, he said.
More to follow...
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