What's Happening With Coronavirus In The UK?

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With every day seeming to bring more cases of coronavirus across the globe, it's easy to fall into a state of panic. This isn't helped by the fact that the Department of Health has labelled the illness as a "serious and imminent threat." To help stop widespread anxiety around the virus, here's exactly what's going on with coronavirus in the UK.

Coronavirus sounds all the more terrifying because, per the Guardian it's a virus originating from animals. The first human cases were noted in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of 2019, Time reports, and the first death was recorded on Jan. 9. Now, the virus has spread via human-to-human transmission to other countries, including the UK. On Jan. 31, the first two UK cases were confirmed, per Wired.

With symptoms including coughs, fevers, and breathlessness, coronavirus can cause pneumonia. Currently, there is no specific treatment, but people who are admitted to hospital may receive fluids and lung support, the Guardian notes.

How many people have been diagnosed in the UK?

So far, 13 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the UK. All but one of the UK’s original nine cases have been discharged from hospital after testing negative for the illness, the NHS recently confirmed to Sky News.

A further four UK cases were diagnosed on Feb. 23, reports the BBC. All four were passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which had been quarantined in Japan. After boarding a special flight back to the UK, they are now in specialist NHS infection centres in the north of England. Passengers who tested negative for the virus have started a 14-day quarantine at Wirral’s Arrowe Park Hospital.

Four more Brits tested positive for coronavirus while on board the ship, the Guardian reports, where more than 600 passengers in total were diagnosed with the virus. These individuals have remained in Japan for treatment, Sky News reports.

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On Feb. 12, the first case to be identified in London hit the news, per the Guardian. As the paper reports, the woman in question didn’t follow public health advice and took an Uber to Lewisham hospital.

The Uber driver was temporarily suspended, notes the BBC, although Public Health England (PHE) has said they are not at “high risk”. Two hospital staff were also placed in isolation after coming into contact with the woman, who is a Chinese national who’d recently travelled to the UK from China and was treated in a unit at St Thomas’ Hospital. No other patients in Lewisham hospital came into contact with her, reports the Guardian.

The first two people to test positive in the UK were both Chinese nationals from the same family, notes the BBC. A third person is believed to have picked up the virus in Singapore. Per the BBC, another four people tested positive on Feb. 10.

Four cases were all "known contacts" of a UK case, "and the virus was passed on in France," England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Witty, told the BBC.

On Feb. 14, it was revealed one of the confirmed cases had recently attended a conference in Westminster. The attendees of the UK Bus Summit were informed, notes the Daily Mail. Dr. Yimmy Chow, health protection consultant at PHE, told the Telegraph “the degree of contact conference delegates may have had with the case is unlikely to have been significant.”

Throughout the globe, more than 80,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed, per the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and the virus has killed almost 3,000 people. Most of those deaths have occurred in mainland China. The worst European outbreak is currently in Italy, reports ITV News, where 322 people have been diagnosed and 11 have died. Several towns near Milan and Venice have been quarantined, meaning people can’t enter or leave for the next 14 days without permission.

How serious is the UK threat?

In a statement (published Feb. 10), the Department of Health said that the incidence or transmission of coronavirus "constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health." Stricter measures have been put in place to force people flying from certain countries to the UK to remain in quarantine for 14 days, per the BBC. Several hospitals and GP surgeries across the UK have also begun testing any person with flu-like symptoms, the broadcaster reports.

However, despite more than 6,000 people being tested for the virus in the UK, the risk to the nation has not changed. It remains at a moderate level, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement. "NHS staff and others will now be supported with additional legal powers to keep people safe across the country," he said. "The transmission of coronavirus would constitute a serious threat — so I am taking action to protect the public and isolate those at risk of spreading the virus."

A leaked government memo, seen by The Sun, detailed the UK’s worst case scenario. Up to 80% of the population could be infected, noted the memo, with around half a million people potentially dying. A government spokesperson told the newspaper it was planning for all eventualities, but “this does not mean we expect it to happen.”

There are fears that certain areas could be put on lockdown if the virus spreads. “I think you have to be cautious about the idea of closing down communities, towns, and so on,” said Public Health England’s medical director, Professor Paul Cosford, per the Telegraph. “We will take the best scientific advice to how we may be able to delay transmission further and if that includes actions to isolate more widely then, of course, we will do that.”

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So far, the main places in the UK to shut down have been schools that organised half-term trips to Italy; a country that has now reported 11 deaths and 322 infections, per ITV News. According to the Daily Mail, eight schools have closed and at least 18 more have told certain students to remain at home for two weeks. Public Health England has not told schools to shut, notes the Guardian. But “schools have to take difficult decisions given the complexity of issues that they are facing,” said Professor Cosford.

An office in Canary Wharf has also been locked down, reports Metro, after one employee reported flu-type symptoms upon returning from an at-risk country. Oil company Chevron has advised hundreds of staff members to work from home until the individual’s test results have been confirmed.

Per the BBC, two isolation facilities have been designated in the UK. These are Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral and Kents Hill Park conference centre in Milton Keynes. Every person evacuated from Wuhan to the UK was transported to one of these two locations. More than 80 people were released from quarantine on Feb. 13 after testing negative for the virus, the Guardian reports.

The confirmed London case, however, has raised concerns that the city’s public transport network could inadvertently spread the virus, Sky News reports. "In general, if an initial case is in a densely populated area, then the risk of sustained person-to-person transmission following is higher,” Oxford University’s Dr. Robin Thompson told the broadcaster.

"This is exacerbated by the fact that London is a transport hub, and the Underground could provide a network to spread the virus quickly.” However, the risk is likely to be much lower if the London-based individual came into contact with few people while having coronavirus.

Should you be worried?

Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called the coronavirus outbreak an international public health emergency, it has not reached pandemic scale. (As the Los Angeles Times explains, this is when a virus or disease spreads to several countries and affects a large number of people.) Thousands of people have been affected in China, but diagnoses figures in the rest of the world remain relatively low. Just over 30 countries have reported cases, per the ECDC.

However, a recent statement from WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the “window of opportunity [for containing the virus] is narrowing, so we need to act quickly before it closes completely.” Some experts believe pandemic status may be near, as Vox reports.

PHE is in contact with people in the UK who have spent time around those diagnosed with coronavirus to reduce the chance of it spreading, according to the Guardian. And people in the UK are being advised to carry on with their daily lives, notes Sky News. But the nation still faces several challenges.

According to Dr. Al Edwards, associate professor at the University of Reading, these are "containment, finding everyone infected and stopping the spread, and the treatment of very ill patients, which could easily overwhelm hospitals in any country." He told the Guardian, "We are lucky we do have fairly rapid tests available, based on detecting the virus in patient blood samples, for example. However, these will only work when patient is quite sick.”

It is estimated that 1% of people infected with coronavirus may die, per the BBC. Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and those with weaker immune systems, are likely more at risk. But "the risk to individuals remains low," says the NHS.

As the NHS explains, simple hygiene practices can stop the spread of germs. These include:

  • Catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue before throwing the tissue away and washing your hands
  • Regularly washing hands with soap and water, or a hand sanitiser
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are ill

People with symptoms who have travelled from mainland China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, or Macau in the past fortnight are also advised to stay indoors, avoid contact with others, and call NHS 111. People who have travelled from areas in Italy affected by coronavirus are also being advised to do the same. But people travelling to the UK from Wuhan or Hubei Province in the last 14 days should follow this advice, even without symptoms.

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