United Kingdom

Britain braced for killer coronavirus, says Health Secretary, as infection now in 7 countries

China Global Television Network reported that confirmed cases had now been reported in Beijing, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Shaanxi Province, Fujian Province and Hong Kong and cases have spread beyond China to Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and the US.

Two police stations in Britain were temporarily closed amid fears that a Chinese detainee was displaying flu-like symptoms.

Avon and Somerset Police said the decision to close Patchway police station, near Bristol, and Trinity Road police station in Bristol city centre on Wednesday night was taken as a precaution.

The force said a detainee at Patchway police station had fallen ill and there were fears that they may have had contact with people who had travelled from the Wuhan area of China. The stations were reopened following advice from Public Health England (PHE). 

Since yesterday, Public Health England officials have been carrying out enhanced monitoring of direct flights from Wuhan city and all passengers on direct flights from China will receive information on what to do if they fall ill. Flights, ferries and long-distance buses from Wuhan have now been stopped by the Chinese authorities. 

Labour Shadow Health Secretary Sharon Hodgson warned that passengers had been allowed to leave flights from China with little or no advice. 

Mr Hancock said he would ‘not hesitate to act’ if it became necessary to screen more flights coming into Britain. 

Experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO) are meeting again on Thursday to decide whether to declare a global public health emergency over the virus.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has updated its travel advice for China, with a spokesman saying: "In light of the latest medical information, including reports of some person-to-person transmission, and the Chinese authorities' own advice, we are now advising against all but essential travel to Wuhan.

"The safety and security of British nationals is always our primary concern and we advise British nationals travelling to China to remain vigilant and check our travel advice on gov.uk."

Professor Neil Ferguson, director of the Medical Research Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, said the estimated number of people infected with coronavirus in Wuhan is around 4,000, with a range between 1,000 and 9,700.

Asked whether it is possible the virus has already reached the UK, Prof Ferguson said he could not rule it out. Other experts said it was likely that cases would be seen in Britain.

Dr Andrew Freedman, Reader in Infectious Diseases at Cardiff University, said: "It is likely that further cases will be seen in other countries around the world, including the UK and Europe, in the days & weeks to come. "

Explaining why there is global concern about the virus, Dr Josie Golding of the Wellcome Trust said it is because so little is known about it and vital information is "missing", like how easily it can be transmitted and where it is coming from.

The NHS is braced for cases of coronavirus, the Health Secretary has said, as he warned of an ‘increased likelihood’ that the infection would spread to Britain.

In a statement to the Commons on Thursday, Matt Hancock, said the health service was well-prepared but warned that the situation was developing rapidly, and said he expected the death toll to rise further.

On Wednesday night, China suspended all flights, including international services, out of Wuhan city - the epicentre of the virus outbreak, and shut down all transport services and public venues, such as theatres.

Two other cities close to Wuhan, Huanggang and Ezhou are also on lock-down as officials try to contain the spread of the virus. 

Mr Hancock told MPs there had been 571 cases of coronavirus and 17 deaths confirmed by the Chinese government.

“However this is a rapidly developing situation and the number of cases, and deaths is likely to be higher than those that have been confirmed so far,” he added.  

“And we expect them to rise further. The Chief Medical Officer has revised the risk to the UK population from ‘very low’ to ‘low’ – and has concluded that while there is an increased likelihood that cases may arise in this country, we are well prepared to deal with them.”