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Fourteen people in Britain tested for coronavirus, as Health Secretary says UK is prepared for virus

Sarah Knapton
Seven countries are now affected by the new virus  - 2020 Getty Images

Fourteen people have been tested for suspected coronavirus in the UK with five confirmed negative and nine still awaiting the results, Public Health England said last night.

Officials said on Thursday night there had been no "confirmed cases" of the disease and stressed the risk to the public remained low amid increasing fears the virus may have spread to Britain from China. Five people are being tested in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland.

Six patients who had all travelled to the UK from Wuhan, where the outbreak is thought to have originated, within the past two weeks, are showing symptoms of respiratory trouble, a red flag for the virus.

University cities in Britain were on high alert after five Chinese patients were admitted to hospitals in Scotland, and one in Belfast.

One in five international students in Britain are from China, and Professor Haas suggested that Edinburgh is suffering from three cases because it has such a large Chinese student population.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "There are currently no confirmed cases of Coronavirus (WN Co-V) in Scotland and the risk to the Scottish public remains low.

“Following travel to Wuhan, China, two people confirmed as diagnosed with influenza are now being tested for Wuhan Novel Coronavirus as a precautionary measure only. Three further people are also undergoing testing on a similar precautionary basis.

“As the situation develops we will update should there be any confirmed cases of Coronavirus, rather than provide a running update on cases being considered on a precautionary basis.

“We are co-orientating with Health Protection Scotland a daily Incident Management Team to continue to monitor the situation as it develops, including on the number of any potential cases going forward.”

Another man is also being treated for coronavirus-associated symptoms at Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

Professor Jurgen Haas, head of infection medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said he believes there will be many more cases from other cities in the UK.

Professor Haas said: "We have currently three cases of suspected Wuhan coronavirus in Edinburgh and as far as I understand one case in Glasgow."

He said the cases emerged overnight, adding: "The situation will be pretty similar in pretty much all UK cities with a large number of Chinese students.

"It's not too surprising. My suspicion is that there will probably be many more cases in many other cities in the UK. None of the cases I know of have been confirmed."

He said there is only one laboratory testing for the virus, operated by Public Health England (PHE).

The professor said the cases have been flagged up through the PHE infection guidelines as they travelled to Wuhan within the last 14 days and are showing signs of respiratory symptoms.

The patient in Glasgow is possibly being treated at Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.  

It is believed that the hospital's infection outbreak and control measures are in place around a ward.

Special measures would include staff wearing sterile suits and patients entering strict isolation, as well as monitoring the temperature of any patient.

NHS braced for cases of coronavirus

In a statement to the Commons on Thursday, Health Secretary 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.

Another city close to Wuhan, Huanggang, is also on lockdown 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.

The Foreign Office has updated its advice on travel Credit: Rex

“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.”

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) met again on Thursday to decide whether to declare a global public health emergency over the virus.

The WHO said it is "too early" to declare an international public health emergency over the outbreak "given its restrictive and binary nature".

Speaking at a press conference, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said: "Make no mistake, this is though an emergency in China.

"But it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one."

The diagram below shows how the virus spreads.

Travel advice updated

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.

Experts believe the virus may have spread to the UK Credit: Getty

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.