Thousands of Britons face mass coronavirus testing

Thousands of Britons are facing coronavirus screening amid fears the number of confirmed infections on UK soil are soon to spiral.   

Public Health England announced that patients suffering flu-like symptoms will now be tested for the infection at around 100 primary care sites, such as GP surgeries. 

Detection efforts have been ratcheted up to prevent an outbreak on the scale of Italy, where 11 people have died and 322 diagnosed in Europe’s first major crisis.

The sudden sprouting up of cases on the continent has fanned panic there could be more cases in Britain than previously thought. 

It came as reports revealed a government ‘worst-case’ planning memo predicts 80 per cent of Britons – more than 50 million people – could contract the disease, of which 500,000 would die. 

Two British schools have closed and a dozen more have told pupils and staff to go into self-isolation amid coronavirus scares after half-term skiing trips to northern Italy.

Cransley School in Northwich, Cheshire, and Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough have shut so they can be deep cleaned.    

Pupils and staff at schools in Cornwall, Cheshire, Yorkshire, Berkshire, Pembrokeshire, Liverpool, London and Northern Ireland were today sent home to quarantine themselves.   

Explaining the drastic new measures to screen more flu sufferers, PHE medical director Professor Yvonne Doyle said: ‘We have taken a belt-and-braces approach throughout this outbreak.

‘There is no change in risk for the public but taking this preparatory step now will enable us to better detect and contain the spread of the virus. 

Two British schools have closed and a dozen more have told pupils and staff to go into self-isolation amid coronavirus scares after half-term skiing trips to virus-hit parts of Italy

Two British schools have closed and a dozen more have told pupils and staff to go into self-isolation amid coronavirus scares after half-term skiing trips to virus-hit parts of Italy

Two British schools have closed and a dozen more have told pupils and staff to go into self-isolation amid coronavirus scares after half-term skiing trips to virus-hit parts of Italy

Detection efforts have been ratcheted up to prevent an outbreak on the scale of Italy, where 11 people have died and 322 diagnosed in Europe's first major crisis

Detection efforts have been ratcheted up to prevent an outbreak on the scale of Italy, where 11 people have died and 322 diagnosed in Europe's first major crisis

Detection efforts have been ratcheted up to prevent an outbreak on the scale of Italy, where 11 people have died and 322 diagnosed in Europe’s first major crisis

‘The UK’s infection control procedures are world-leading, and the system we are announcing today further strengthens our response.’ 

It comes as the Government advised all Britons who have come from northern Italy to self-isolate at home if they start to suffer flu-like symptoms.  

People coming from the hardest-hit areas have been told to stay home even if they feel well, and some schools have expanded their precautions to tell all pupils who have been on the Italy trips not to come to class. 

The planning memo, seen by The Sun, says 2-3 per cent of infected Britons, mostly people already elderly or infirm, could die from coronavirus in coming months. 

The dramatic escalation in policy comes as the global number of cases of COVID-19 jumped above 80,000, with more than 2,700 now dead.   

The mounting coronavirus fears come after a dozen schools in Brighton told parents about suspected patients after a spate of cases earlier this month. 

Cransley School in Northwich, Cheshire (pictured) announced it will be closed for the rest of the week because . It will also undergo a deep clean, in a precautionary move to prevent any cases

Cransley School in Northwich, Cheshire (pictured) announced it will be closed for the rest of the week because . It will also undergo a deep clean, in a precautionary move to prevent any cases

Cransley School in Northwich, Cheshire (pictured) announced it will be closed for the rest of the week because of coronavirus fears. It will also undergo a deep clean, in a precautionary move to prevent any cases

Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough has closed for the week after pupils returned from a skiing trip to northern Italy. Initially it had sent 36 pupils home but has now closed completely for a deep clean

Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough has closed for the week after pupils returned from a skiing trip to northern Italy. Initially it had sent 36 pupils home but has now closed completely for a deep clean

Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough has closed for the week after pupils returned from a skiing trip to northern Italy. Initially it had sent 36 pupils home but has now closed completely for a deep clean

Students at Truro's Penair School turned up for classes this morning but were sent home following their excursion to Ponte di Legno in Lombardy

Students at Truro's Penair School turned up for classes this morning but were sent home following their excursion to Ponte di Legno in Lombardy

Students at Truro’s Penair School turned up for classes this morning but were sent home following their excursion to Ponte di Legno in Lombardy

Three pupils from another school were also told to quarantine themselves after returning from a ski trip in the coronavirus-hit region. But the students at Torquay Boys' Grammar School in Devon have tested negative for the virus, which has swept the world in the last two months

Three pupils from another school were also told to quarantine themselves after returning from a ski trip in the coronavirus-hit region. But the students at Torquay Boys' Grammar School in Devon have tested negative for the virus, which has swept the world in the last two months

Three pupils from another school were also told to quarantine themselves after returning from a ski trip in the coronavirus-hit region. But the students at Torquay Boys’ Grammar School in Devon have tested negative for the virus, which has swept the world in the last two months

What is the government’s advice? 

The Foreign Office has updated its travel advice to Italy because of the coronavirus outbreak in some parts of the country.

A spokesman said: ‘We advise against all but essential travel to 10 small towns in Lombardy and one in Veneto, which are currently in isolation due to an ongoing outbreak of coronavirus.

‘Any British nationals already in these towns should follow the advice of the local authorities.’

The new advice reads: ‘The FCO advises against all but essential travel to 10 small towns in Lombardy: Codogno, Castiglione d’Adda, Casalpusterlengo, Fombio, Maleo, Somaglia, Bertonico, Terranova dei Passerini, Castelgerundo and San Fiorano, and one in Veneto: Vo’ Euganeo which have been isolated by the Italian authorities due to an ongoing outbreak of coronavirus.’ 

Haverfordwest High School in Pembrokeshire today sent three pupils home after they felt unwell following a ski trip to Modena, Italy, during half-term, the Milford Mercury reported. 

The trip did not visit an affected area so the rest of the school continued as normal.

Students at Truro’s Penair School turned up for classes this morning but were sent home following their excursion to Ponte di Legno in Lombardy.

It is unclear how many children from from Penair School were sent home from school after the five-day ski trip over the half-term.

In a statement posted on Facebook to quash fears, the school told parents: ‘Please be assured this is a precautionary measure.’

It added: ‘We are required to send all children and staff home who attended the ski trip, to self-quarantine for 14 days.’ 

Pictures posted on the school’s Instagram page suggest around 40 children went on the trip, between February 17-22.

James Davidson, headteacher of the school, announced a change in policy this afternoon. He said: ‘They (health chiefs) have now updated their advice and confirmed that the children and staff can return to school. 

‘They have stated if students or staff develop any symptoms relating to the coronavirus they should isolate immediately and call 111. If they have no symptoms they do not need not isolate and can return to school.’ 

Three pupils from another school in Britain were also told to quarantine themselves after returning from a ski trip to Bormio, which is also in Lombardy.

The Crispin School in Street, Somerset, sent home an unknown number of students to isolate themselves while the headteacher seeks 'further advice'

The Crispin School in Street, Somerset, sent home an unknown number of students to isolate themselves while the headteacher seeks 'further advice'

The Crispin School in Street, Somerset, sent home an unknown number of students to isolate themselves while the headteacher seeks ‘further advice’

Brine Leas Academy in Nantwich (pictured) has closed its sixth form, partly due to fears of the deadly coronavirus

Brine Leas Academy in Nantwich (pictured) has closed its sixth form, partly due to fears of the deadly coronavirus

Brine Leas Academy in Nantwich (pictured) has closed its sixth form, partly due to fears of the deadly coronavirus

Cambridge House Grammar School in County Antrim said it had taken advice from public health chiefs to send around 50 pupils and staff home

Cambridge House Grammar School in County Antrim said it had taken advice from public health chiefs to send around 50 pupils and staff home

Cambridge House Grammar School in County Antrim said it had taken advice from public health chiefs to send around 50 pupils and staff home

The Holt School – a school for girls in Berkshire – revealed a group of girls who went on an Italian trip would be allowed back to classes tomorrow. It did not confirm how many were originally sent home and told to quarantine

The Holt School – a school for girls in Berkshire – revealed a group of girls who went on an Italian trip would be allowed back to classes tomorrow. It did not confirm how many were originally sent home and told to quarantine

The Holt School – a school for girls in Berkshire – revealed a group of girls who went on an Italian trip would be allowed back to classes tomorrow. It did not confirm how many were originally sent home and told to quarantine

Newquay Tretherras said 20 pupils and three members of staff have been told to stay at home after returning from a ski trip in Pampeago, Italy

Newquay Tretherras said 20 pupils and three members of staff have been told to stay at home after returning from a ski trip in Pampeago, Italy

Newquay Tretherras said 20 pupils and three members of staff have been told to stay at home after returning from a ski trip in Pampeago, Italy

Sandbach High School in Cheshire said students and staff who went on a ski trip to Aprica, Italy, have been told to self-isolate

Sandbach High School in Cheshire said students and staff who went on a ski trip to Aprica, Italy, have been told to self-isolate

Sandbach High School in Cheshire said students and staff who went on a ski trip to Aprica, Italy, have been told to self-isolate

Three Haverfordwest High School pupils who went on a ski trip to Modena, Italy, during half-term were sent home after becoming sick today. The trip did not visit a high-risk area so other children remain at school

Three Haverfordwest High School pupils who went on a ski trip to Modena, Italy, during half-term were sent home after becoming sick today. The trip did not visit a high-risk area so other children remain at school

Three Haverfordwest High School pupils who went on a ski trip to Modena, Italy, during half-term were sent home after becoming sick today. The trip did not visit a high-risk area so other children remain at school

19 children and four staff have been sent into self-isolation by Salendine Nook High School in Huddersfield after they went on a school trip in northern Italy last week

19 children and four staff have been sent into self-isolation by Salendine Nook High School in Huddersfield after they went on a school trip in northern Italy last week

19 children and four staff have been sent into self-isolation by Salendine Nook High School in Huddersfield after they went on a school trip in northern Italy last week

Hall Cross Academy in Doncaster told students and staff who went on a ski trip to Bormio, Italy, in half-term to stay at home for the next two weeks

Hall Cross Academy in Doncaster told students and staff who went on a ski trip to Bormio, Italy, in half-term to stay at home for the next two weeks

Hall Cross Academy in Doncaster told students and staff who went on a ski trip to Bormio, Italy, in half-term to stay at home for the next two weeks

WHERE ARE THE SCHOOLS THAT HAVE BEEN GRIPPED BY CORONAVIRUS FEARS AFTER SKI TRIPS TO NORTHERN ITALY?

Brine Leas Academy, Cheshire

Brine Leas Academy in Nantwich closed its sixth form after a skiing trip to northern Italy between February 14 and February 21. On Twitter the school said it was ‘following Government advice regarding travel to Italy’, but added the rest of the school remained open.

Salendine Nook High School, Huddersfield

A statement on its website said: ‘Our ski trip returned from northern Italy (Milan airport) on Saturday 22 February… As a result of this, we have sent home 19 children and 4 staff, as a precautionary measure in line with Public Health England’s advice. These children and staff will be returning to school on Monday 9th March 2020.’

Newquay Tretherras

A letter to parents said it had told 20 students and three members of staff to stay at home in self-isolation after returning from a ski trip in Pampeago in the north of Italy.

Cransley School, Cheshire

The private school in Northwich, said some of its staff and pupils had ‘mild flu-like symptoms’ after returning from Bormio in Italy last week. 29 pupils and five staff went on the ski trip. The headmaster said he was given ‘inconsistent advice’ so has closed the school for the rest of the week, during which time it will be deep-cleaned and pupils’ coronavirus test results will be returned.

The Holt School, Wokingham

Girls at the school have been given the all-clear to return to school tomorrow following a half-term skiing trip to Piedmont, Italy, between February 14 and 22.

Cambridge House Grammar School, County Antrim

The school sent around 50 pupils and staff home today after they returned from a skiing trip in the north of Italy last week. Principal Elma Lutton said: ‘This is precautionary… none are showing any symptoms.’

Penair School, Truro

Penair School in Truro has allowed staff and pupils back to school after sending them home earlier today in a coronavirus scare following a ski trip to Ponte di Legno, Italy, during half term. It reversed the decision after consulting with Public Health England about the exact areas they visited.

Torquay Boys’ Grammar School

Three pupils tested negative for coronavirus after falling ill when they returned from a ski trip to Bormio, Italy. Those on the trip had been told to stay at home as a precaution but have now been given the all-clear return to school.

Haverfordwest High School, Pembrokeshire

Three pupils were sent home today because they felt unwell after a ski trip to Modena, Italy, during half-term, the Milford Mercury reported. 

Hall Cross Academy, Doncaster

Students and staff who went on a half-term ski trip to Bormio, Italy, have been told to remain at home in isolation for the next 14 days.

Sandbach High School, Cheshire

On its website the school said: ‘Students and staff who went on the school ski trip during half term to Aprica (Northern Italy, Lombardy region) are to stay indoors, self-isolate, ring 111 to get further information.’ The school is open as usual.

Trinity Catholic College, Middlesbrough

The school has been closed for the rest of the week after 36 pupils were initially sent home following a skiing trip to Italy. The headteacher said the school would have a ‘precautionary deep clean’ during the week. 

The Crispin School, Somerset

An unknown number of students who travelled to Italy recently were sent home to isolate themselves. The school said it was ‘seeking further advice’. 

Cleeve Park School, London (Sidcup)

A ‘small number’ of pupils at Cleeve Park School in Sidcup, south-east London, were told to stay at home after beginning to feel unwell after returning from a school trip to Italy.

But the students at Torquay Boys’ Grammar School in Devon have tested negative for the virus, which has swept the world in the last two months. 

It is thought all pupils and staff were advised to stay at home after they returned at the weekend. Head teacher Peter Lawrence yesterday said the quarantine was just a precautionary move.

He later confirmed the three students concerned had tested negative for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. 

Cransley School, a private school in Northwich, today announced it would be closed for the rest of the week because of coronavirus fears. 

It said some of the 34 staff and pupils who went on a ski trip to Bormio in Italy last week had ‘mild flu-like symptoms’ after returning home. 

The school also said it would undergo a deep clean, in a precautionary move in case any of the party had unknowingly caught the virus and brought into classes. 

The headmaster said he was given ‘inconsistent advice’ so has closed the school for the rest of the week.  

Brine Leas Academy in Nantwich closed its sixth form after a skiing trip to northern Italy between February 14 and February 21. 

On Twitter the school said it had closed the sixth form due to ‘staff shortages’ and said it was ‘following Government advice regarding travel to Italy’, but added the rest of the school remained open.  

The Holt School – a school for girls in Berkshire – revealed a group of girls who went on an Italian trip would be allowed back to classes tomorrow.

It did not confirm to MailOnline how many were originally sent home and told to quarantine. The trip went to Claviere, in the region of Piedmont.

Cambridge House Grammar School in County Antrim said it had taken advice from public health chiefs to send around 50 pupils and staff home.

Principal Elma Lutton said: ‘This is precautionary – none of them were in those [quarantined] towns, none are showing any symptoms.’

Similar precautionary measures were announced at the Newquay Tretherras school. In a letter to parents, it said it had told 20 students and three members of staff to stay at home in self-isolation after returning from a ski trip in Pampeago in the north of Italy. 

Salendine Nook High School in Yorkshire said in a statement on its website: ‘Our ski trip returned from northern Italy (Milan airport) on Saturday 22 February. 

‘This is an area which is affected by the virus. As a result of this, we have sent home 19 children and 4 staff, as a precautionary measure in line with Public Health England’s advice. These children and staff will be returning to school on Monday 9th March 2020.’ 

Students and staff at Hall Cross Academy in Doncaster who went on a half-term ski trip to Bormio, Italy, have been told to remain at home in isolation for the next 14 days. The rest of the school remains open. 

Sandbach High School, Cheshire, said on its website: ‘Students and staff who went on the school ski trip during half term to Aprica (Northern Italy, Lombardy region) are to stay indoors, self-isolate, ring 111 to get further information.’ The school is open as usual.

The Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough has completely closed for the rest of the week after initially sending home 36 pupils who had been on a skiing trip during half-term.

In a statement on its website the school said: ‘Regardless of the current Department for Education and Public Health England advice that the school should remain open to all other pupils, the Headteacher has decided, in discussion with the senior leadership team and the CEO of the Trust to completely minimise possible spread of infection amongst families and close the school for the remainder of the week. 

‘During this time, the school will be able to conduct a precautionary deep clean of the school buildings.’ 

Students from the Crispin School in Street, Somerset, sent home pupils who recently travelled to northern Italy.  

A statement from the school said: ‘Following advice from the Department of Health, students who have recently travelled to Northern Italy are being sent home as a precautionary measure.

‘We will be seeking further advice and will update you accordingly.’    

VIRUS SWEEPS OUT OF ITALY AND ACROSS EUROPE

The deadly coronavirus has today broken out of Italy after spreading wildly there over the weekend and infections have now been confirmed in Switzerland, Austria, Croatia and mainland Spain today.

At least five new European cases – two in Austria, one in Croatia and two in Tenerife – are young people who have travelled to northern Italy. Officials have yet to confirm if the two other cases – one in Switzerland and one in Barcelona – were infected in Italy, Asia or elsewhere. 

Italy has seen a dramatic surge in cases since Friday, with the number of infections soaring from just six to 316. Seven people have died there. 

Italy’s spike in cases comes after thousands of British families returned from half-term breaks and school skiing trips. Easter holidays – another popular time to go abroad – are just five weeks away. 

More than 80,000 people across the world have been infected, while at least 2,700 are known to have died from the pneumonia-causing virus. 

Europe already had a handful of cases of the coronavirus before Italy’s outbreak took hold – but almost 360 patients have been struck down across the continent in a matter of days. 

A ‘small number’ of pupils at Cleeve Park School in Sidcup, south-east London, have been told to stay at home after beginning to feel unwell after returning from a school trip to Italy, the News Shopper reports.

Headteacher Mrs Tyler Maher said: ‘I can confirm that a group of students and staff have recently returned from a skiing trip in Northern Italy.

‘A small number in the group have reported feeling unwell and as a precaution, they have been isolated at home from the other students and staff.

‘We will continue to work closely with the families of all involved and follow the advice of Public Health England and the Trust’s Health and Safety Officer.’ 

The school scares come as the Government today updated its health travel advice to tell travellers from four other countries to self-isolate if they have symptoms.

The Department of Health said the instruction now applies to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. 

The same advice was already in place for China, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau.

Anyone coming to the UK from Hubei province in China – the epicentre of the crisis – should self-isolate even if they don’t feel ill.

This guidance has now been extended to include people travelling back from Iran, Daegu or Cheongdo in South Korea or the Italian areas of Castelgerundo, Terranova dei Passerini, Bertonico, San Fiorano, Maleo, Codogno, Somaglia or Fombio. 

Italy's sudden outbreak, which surged over the weekend, has gripped around a dozens smaller towns and provinces around Milan (Pictured: Soldiers stand guard at the Duomo di Milano, one of the city's biggest tourist attractions)

Italy's sudden outbreak, which surged over the weekend, has gripped around a dozens smaller towns and provinces around Milan (Pictured: Soldiers stand guard at the Duomo di Milano, one of the city's biggest tourist attractions)

Italy’s sudden outbreak, which surged over the weekend, has gripped around a dozens smaller towns and provinces around Milan (Pictured: Soldiers stand guard at the Duomo di Milano, one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions) 

Matt Hancock today told Sky News he was 'not planning' on going to northern Italy when he was asked whether he would, but he said it was 'perfectly reasonable' to travel to the south

Matt Hancock today told Sky News he was 'not planning' on going to northern Italy when he was asked whether he would, but he said it was 'perfectly reasonable' to travel to the south

Matt Hancock today told Sky News he was ‘not planning’ on going to northern Italy when he was asked whether he would, but he said it was ‘perfectly reasonable’ to travel to the south

HOW HAS CHINA’S CORONAVIRUS SPREAD OVER TIME?

The vast majority of confirmed infections of the Wuhan coronavirus have been diagnosed in China.

But more than 25 countries or territories outside of the mainland have also declared infections: 

  • Spain (mainland): February 25 
  • Switzerland: February 25 
  • Croatia: February 25 
  • Austria: February 25 
  • Iraq: February 24
  • Oman: February 24
  • Bahrain: February 24
  • Kuwait: February 24
  • Afghanistan: February 24 
  • Lebanon: February 21
  • Israel: February 21 
  • Iran: February 19
  • Egypt: February 14 
  • Belgium: February 4 
  • Diamond Princess: February 1 
  • Spain (Canary Islands): January 31 
  • Sweden: January 31 
  • Russia: January 31 
  • UK: January 31 
  • India: January 30 
  • Philippines: January 30 
  • Italy: January 30
  • Finland: January 29
  • United Arab Emirates: January 29 
  • Germany: January 27
  • Sri Lanka: January 27
  • Cambodia: January 27
  • Canada: January 25
  • Australia: January 25
  • Malaysia: January 25
  • France: January 24
  • Nepal: January 24
  • Vietnam: January 24
  • Singapore: January 23
  • Macau: January 22
  • Hong Kong: January 22 
  • Taiwan: January 21 
  • USA: January 20
  • South Korea: January 20
  • Japan: January 16
  • Thailand: January 13

Speaking to Sky News this morning Mr Hancock said: ‘We’re saying that those who have been in Northern Italy, if they feel ill [with] flu-like symptoms, then you should self-isolate, stay at home, try not to see other people.

‘If you’ve been to Italy to the areas that are being quarantined by the Italian government then you should stay at home and self-isolate even if you don’t have any symptoms.’

He added that the government doesn’t think there are any Brits in the quarantined area but it cannot be certain.

‘This development in Italy is obviously very worrying because it’s a significant outbreak,’ Mr Hancock said.

‘But throughout this outbreak … we’ve been clear that we expect cases here, so people shouldn’t be surprised that there are cases this close to home, but it just shows how important preparations are.’

When asked whether he would travel to Italy Mr Hancock hesitated and said it would be ‘perfectly reasonable’ to go to the south of the country, but that he is ‘not planning on going’ to the north.

He added: ‘We haven’t changed the official government travel advice but I’m not planning on going.

‘And if people go and then they come back and feel ill with flu-like symptoms then we’re asking them to self-isolate, to stay at home for two weeks and to try not to come into contact with anybody else.

‘That is obviously quite a significant imposition on people. We get that but our top priority is to keep the public safe.’

Italy saw a devastating surge in COVID-19 cases over the weekend, with confirmed infections rocketing from just six on Friday to more than 280 today, and seven people have died.

British tourists last night attacked the Government’s ‘pitiful’ response to the developments, with some saying they were given no safety advice and others feeling forced to cancel trips.

As other countries ramped up warnings not to travel to the Italian crisis zone, Downing Street insisted Britain is ‘well prepared’ for an outbreak. 

A police roadblock is pictured close to Codogno, the town at the centre of Italy's coronavirus outbreak

A police roadblock is pictured close to Codogno, the town at the centre of Italy's coronavirus outbreak

A police roadblock is pictured close to Codogno, the town at the centre of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak

HEALTH CHIEFS TO TEST FLU PATIENTS FOR CORONAVIRUS AMID FEARS IT MAY ALREADY BE CIRCULATING 

It comes as Public Health England has announced flu patients are to be assessed for coronavirus in a bid to spot whether it is spreading. 

Standard flu test samples from patients in eight NHS hospitals in England will also be assessed for the virus. 

So far diagnostic tests have only been conducted on patients who are believed to be infected, but health officials plan to roll out the assessment more widely. 

It is not believed that coronavirus is circulating in England, but by rolling out the tests, experts hope to spot any spread.  

Around 100 primary care sites, such as GP surgeries, will also participate in the new scheme so milder cases can also be detected.

‘We have taken a belt-and-braces approach throughout this outbreak,’ said PHE medical director Professor Yvonne Doyle.’ 

The country has effectively placed 50,000 citizens in lockdown by shutting off more than a dozen towns close to Milan and cancelling public events. 

It comes as Public Health England has announced flu patients are to be assessed for coronavirus in a bid to spot whether it is circulating. 

Standard flu test samples from patients in eight NHS hospitals in England will also be assessed for the virus. 

So far diagnostic tests have only been conducted on patients who are believed to be infected, but health officials plan to roll out the assessment more widely. 

It is not believed that coronavirus is circulating in England, but by rolling out the tests, experts hope to spot any spread.  

Around 100 primary care sites, such as GP surgeries, will also participate in the new scheme so milder cases can also be detected.

‘We have taken a belt-and-braces approach throughout this outbreak,’ said PHE medical director Professor Yvonne Doyle.  

‘There is no change in risk for the public but taking this preparatory step now will enable us to better detect and contain the spread of the virus. 

‘The UK’s infection control procedures are world-leading, and the system we are announcing today further strengthens our response.’ 

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE DEADLY CORONAVIRUS IN CHINA?

Someone who is infected with the coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.

Over 2,700 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 80,000 have been infected. But experts predict the true number of people with the disease could be as high as 350,000 in Wuhan alone.  Here’s what we know so far:

What is the coronavirus? 

A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.

The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.

Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.

The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals. 

‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses). 

‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’ 

The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.

By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.

The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000.

Just a week after that, there had been more than 800 confirmed cases and those same scientists estimated that some 4,000 – possibly 9,700 – were infected in Wuhan alone. By that point, 26 people had died. 

By January 27, more than 2,800 people were confirmed to have been infected, 81 had died, and estimates of the total number of cases ranged from 100,000 to 350,000 in Wuhan alone.

By January 29, the number of deaths had risen to 132 and cases were in excess of 6,000.  

By February 5, there were more than 24,000 cases and 492 deaths.

By February 11, this had risen to more than 43,000 cases and 1,000 deaths. 

A change in the way cases are confirmed on February 13 – doctors decided to start using lung scans as a formal diagnosis, as well as laboratory tests – caused a spike in the number of cases, to more than 60,000 and to 1,369 deaths.

By February 25, around 80,000 people had been infected and some 2,700 had died. 

Where does the virus come from?

According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.

The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.

Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat. 

A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.

However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.

Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.

‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’  

So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it? 

Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.

It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however.

Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.

Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.

‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’

If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die. 

‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.

‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’

How does the virus spread?

The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.

It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. 

Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.

There is now evidence that it can spread third hand – to someone from a person who caught it from another person.

What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?

Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.

If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients – at least 97 per cent, based on available data – will recover from these without any issues or medical help.

In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.

What have genetic tests revealed about the virus? 

Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world. 

This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.   

Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.

However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.

This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.   

More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.

How dangerous is the virus?  

The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.

However, experts say the true number of patients is likely considerably higher and therefore the death rate considerably lower. Imperial College London researchers estimate that there were 4,000 (up to 9,700) cases in Wuhan city alone up to January 18 – officially there were only 444 there to that date. If cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the virus may be far less dangerous than currently believed, but also far more widespread. 

Experts say it is likely only the most seriously ill patients who are seeking help and are therefore recorded – the vast majority will have only mild, cold-like symptoms. For those whose conditions do become more severe, there is a risk of developing pneumonia which can destroy the lungs and kill them.

Can the virus be cured? 

The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.

Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.

No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.

The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.

Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.

People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.

And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).

However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.

Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?   

The outbreak is an epidemic, which is when a disease takes hold of one community such as a country or region. 

Although it has spread to dozens of countries, the outbreak is not yet classed as a pandemic, which is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.

The head of WHO’s global infectious hazard preparedness, Dr Sylvie Briand, said: ‘Currently we are not in a pandemic. We are at the phase where it is an epidemic with multiple foci, and we try to extinguish the transmission in each of these foci,’ the Guardian reported.

She said that most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.

Link hienalouca.com

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