Novel Coronavirus 'Serious and Imminent Threat to Public Health'

Dawn O'Shea

February 10, 2020

The Government has declared coronavirus a "serious and imminent threat" to public health.

The announcement came in a statement from Health Secretary Matt Hancock who announced new measures to help prevent the spread of the virus. These included designating Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirrall and Kents Hill Park in Milton Keynes as isolation facilities, and Wuhan and Hubei province as infected areas.

Overall, the risk to individuals in the UK is moderate, officials said.

Today, England's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, confirmed there had been four more confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the UK bringing the total to eight. 

In a statement he said: "The new cases are all known contacts of a previously confirmed UK case, and the virus was passed on in France.

"Experts at Public Health England continue to work hard tracing patient contacts from the UK cases. They successfully identified these individuals and ensured the appropriate support was provided.

"The patients have been transferred to specialist NHS centres at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and The Royal Free hospitals [in London], and we are now using robust infection control measures to prevent further spread of the virus. The NHS is extremely well prepared to manage these cases and treat them, and we are working quickly to identify any further contacts these patients have had."

GP Surgery Affected

Reports said a GP practice in Brighton, County Oak Medical Centre, was closed after a staff member tested positive for coronavirus.

In a statement, Public Health England medical director, Yvonne Doyle, said: "As a result of our contact tracing we now know the new cases announced today are all closely linked to one another. Our priority has been to speak to those who have close and sustained contact with confirmed cases, so we can advise them on what they can do to limit the spread of the virus.

"Two of these new cases are healthcare workers and as soon as they were identified, we advised them to self-isolate in order to keep patient contact to a minimum. We are now working urgently to identify all patients and other healthcare workers who may have come into close contact, and at this stage we believe this to be a relatively small number. "

UK Coronavirus Testing

Public Health England (PHE) said that a novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV diagnostic test is being rolled out to laboratories across the UK, starting today. The increase in diagnostic capacity from one laboratory to 12 labs over the coming weeks, will accelerate the country’s testing capabilities, it said.

Furthermore, "to ensure that the country is prepared for further cases and to speed up the time from a sample being taken to a result in the lab, the test will be carried out by trained scientists across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland".

Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director, PHE, said: "Once China confirmed that they had identified a novel coronavirus, PHE was ready to test potential cases in this country. We have now trained scientists in labs across the UK to conduct the specialist test - ensuring that we are well prepared should we begin to see an increased number of cases across the country."

The laboratories will be in Scotland (2 laboratories), Northern Ireland, Wales, London, Cambridge, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, and Southampton.

In addition to processing samples from suspected cases in this country, PHE is now working as a reference laboratory for WHO, testing samples from countries that do not have assured testing capabilities.

Editor's Note: This article was updated with new information during 10th February and was originally adapted from Univadis from Medscape.

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