Coronavirus: 14 tested and cleared in UK, more tests underway
London, Jan 24: A total of 14 people who were tested in the UK for the deadly coronavirus, which has claimed 26 lives in China, have been cleared after the results come back as negative on Friday.
Soon after attending the government's emergency COBRA meeting on the health crisis, UK Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said the risk to the UK public remains "low", but there may well be cases in the country "at some stage" as more tests are underway.
"We have tried and tested measures in place to respond. The UK is well-prepared for these types of incidents, with excellent readiness against infectious diseases," he said.
"We have global experts monitoring the situation around the clock and have a strong track record of managing new forms of infectious disease. The UK has access to some of the best infectious disease and public health experts in the world," Whitty said, adding that a public health hub will be set up at Heathrow Airport from Friday made up of clinicians and other public health officials as a boost to existing measures to monitor travellers.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who chaired the COBRA meeting earlier, also reiterated that the risk to the UK public "remains low".
All those tested in the UK had visited Wuhan - the Chinese city where the outbreak originated and four out five patients tested in Scotland were Chinese nationals.
China, which has put 10 cities into lockdown over the virus scare, has announced plans to build a 1,000-bed hospital in six days to treat victims.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the outbreak an emergency but said it was "too early" to consider it a "public health emergency of international concern" given "its restrictive and binary nature".
UK schools and universities, which tend to have significant Chinese student populations, are putting measures in place to tackle the spread. Universities are also being contacted by the government about their preparedness and are being told to give information to students, a Downing Street spokesperson said.
Anyone who is confirmed as having the virus will be transferred to an Airborne High Consequences Infectious Disease (HCID) Centre. There are four interim Airborne HCID centres in England - two in London, one in Liverpool and one in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
General Practitioners (GPs) across surgeries have been told to check the travel history of patients and isolate anyone with symptoms that could indicate coronavirus in a room away from other patients and staff with the door closed.
Earlier, the UK public health officials had admitted an "increased likelihood" of the virus spreading to Britain.
"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 and well equipped to deal with them," UK health secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement to Parliament on Thursday.
"The public can be assured that the whole of the UK is always well prepared for these type of outbreaks and we will remain vigilant and keep our response under constant review in light of emerging scientific evidence," he said, adding that the UK was among the first countries to have devised a "world-leading" test for the new virus.
The UK is monitoring direct flights arriving from China as a precaution, as increased back and forth travel is expected around this time of the year for Chinese New Year this weekend.
Passengers are being given leaflets and advice on what to do if they fall ill, and a health team is available at Heathrow Airport to check for symptoms.
The first human cases of the new strain of such a virus were identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year. Authorities have said it originated in a seafood market that "conducted illegal transactions of wild animals".
The market has been shut down since the beginning of the year. The incubation period, or the time it takes for symptoms to appear after catching the infection, is within days. At the moment, there is no vaccine that can protect people against it, but researchers are looking to develop one.
According to WHO, signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.