Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a COBRA meeting today to discuss the growing threat from the deadly coronavirus…reports Asian Lite News
Members of the emergency committee will gather in Downing Street after health officials confirmed that 14 patients in the UK were being tested for the virus. The meeting will update ministers on the situation and outline the Government’s preparations for any future cases.
Meanwhile, the government has changed official coronavirus advice for anyone who has visited areas of northern Italy which are under quarantine. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told LBC the official advice around coronavirus is being updated so that people returning to the UK from anywhere in northern Italy should self-isolate if they have flu-like symptoms.
There are more cases reported from Iran. Channel 4’s Jon Snow, who just returned from Iran after covering the elections. took a self-imposed quarantine to avoid risks.
The health secretary told LBC that if the virus does become pandemic it cannot be stopped from coming to the UK in a “big way”.
He was speaking as China reported 508 new cases and another 71 deaths on Tuesday, 68 of them in the central city of Wuhan, where the epidemic was first detected in December. The updates bring mainland China’s totals to 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths.
The virus has killed 15 people in Iran, making it the worst-hit region outside of China. South Korea now has the second-most cases in the world with 893 and has had a near 15-fold increase in reported infections in a week, with 60 new cases reported on Tuesday. In Italy, 229 people have tested positive for the virus and seven have died, police manned checkpoints around a dozen quarantined northern towns as worries grew across the continent.
More Test Centres
Tests for coronavirus are being increased to include people displaying flu-like symptoms at 11 hospitals and 100 GP surgeries across the UK, BBC reported.
The tests will provide an “early warning” if the virus is spreading, Public Health England medical director Prof Paul Cosford said.
It comes as more schools closed or sent staff and pupils home following trips to Italy, which has over 300 cases.
Prof Cosford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are heightening our vigilance because of the apparent spread of the virus in countries outside mainland China.”
Prof Cosford said Public Health England was now working with hospitals and GP surgeries to conduct “random” tests.
These will target some patients with coughs, fevers or shortness of breath, regardless of whether they have travelled to a place where the virus is spreading.
“If we do get to the position of a more widespread infection across the country, then it will give us early warning that’s happening,” said Prof Cosford.
He said the UK was still in the “containment” phase of dealing with the coronavirus, and added that efforts to identify and isolate people with the virus returning to the UK were “working really quite well”.
Prof Cosford said Public Health England was not giving “blanket advice” that schools should close if staff or pupils have travelled to areas with outbreaks of the virus.
But, he said, schools made “difficult decisions” according to their specific circumstances.
Four schools have shut completely for a week to carry out a “deep clean” after students and teachers returned from skiing trips in northern Italy over half term.
Hugh Hegarty, CEO of the trust which runs Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough, said the school closed because of the “potential risk” after students and staff returned from a ski trip near Verona.
Another school, St Christopher’s C of E High School in Accrington, told parents it would be closed on Wednesday as a precautionary measure after some pupils returning from Pila in the Italian Alps said they felt unwell.
In Scotland, an incident team has already been established after five people were sent for testing after returning from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak is believed to have originated.
Meanwhile, the Department for Education has begun discussions with universities regarding students returning to the UK after celebrating Chinese New Year back home.