The killer Chinese coronavirus that is sweeping across Asia may already be in Britain, health experts have warned today.
It comes as Heathrow Airport announced it will take the extraordinary measure of separating all passengers flying into the UK from Wuhan – the Chinese city at the heart of the outbreak – to try to stop the infection reaching British soil.
Health chiefs have now raised the disease threat level in the UK amid the spread of the virus that has claimed the lives of nine people in Asia.
Leading scientists have also today warned up to 10,000 patients may have caught the SARS-like virus in Wuhan – more than double the previous estimate. Officially, 473 people have been diagnosed.
It emerged last night that the disease had reached the US. A man in his 30s from Washington State, who had travelled back from Wuhan, was confirmed to be the first American case.
Patients have already been confirmed in Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, and one man in Australia is being tested for the virus.
US President Donald Trump today said America ‘has a plan’ to contain the spread of the virus, which officials have confirmed can spread between humans.
But British experts who fear there could already be a case of the never-before-seen virus in the UK have warned screening in the UK ‘is not foolproof’.
An American man with the new coronavirus has been identified in Washington state, CDC officials said on Wednesday, bringing the total number of countries with cases of the deadly virus to five outside of China, including the US, Thailand, Japan South Korea and Taiwan
Officials measure temperatures of passengers on board on an Air China flight from Wuhan to Macau
Scientists are desperately trying to contain the outbreak of the virus, which scientists say may have come from bats and can cause a fever and pneumonia.
It comes as:
- The World Health Organisation (WHO) is poised to declare the outbreak a public health emergency in a meeting in Geneva this afternoon
- China’s National Health Commission has urged travellers to not visit Wuhan, which is home to 11million people
- Experts have warned we have ‘no immunity’ to never-before-seen viruses, such as the unnamed coronavirus infection
- Football and boxing qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympic Games will be moved from Wuhan to another location
- China has been accused of under-reporting cases, with experts saying it has a ‘track record’ and warning the ‘true picture may be completely different’
- Scientists say the virus may have been lurking in bats for decades but evolved to infect humans, warning that it is possible it can be passed through saliva
Cases of the virus have risen almost 10-fold in the space of a few days, with just 48 confirmed cases on January 17.
At least 20 healthcare workers have since been infected, including one leading Chinese doctor who was investigating the outbreak.
The virus outbreak has coincided with China’s Lunar New Year celebrations this weekend, when millions travel at home and abroad for holidays and family reunions.
Experts predict cases will continue to rise in the coming weeks as more information comes out about the virus.
Professor Neil Ferguson, a biologist at Imperial College London, told a briefing in London this morning: ‘There appear to be what are called “super-spreading” events which are events where one person can infect many others, which is similar to what we [saw] from the MERS and SARS coronaviruses.
‘Based on the numbers we’ve seen with onset dates up to 18th January we’ve updated our estimate of the number of cases in Wuhan to about 4,000 with an uncertainty range of 1,000 to 9,700.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps this morning announced the drastic measure at Heathrow, saying ‘we want to stay ahead of the issue so we are keeping a very close eye on it’. His announcement has since been confirmed by the Department of Health.
Enhanced monitoring will be put in place for all direct flights from Wuhan to the UK, of which there are three each week that go straight into Heathrow.
As each of these flights land at an isolated area of Terminal 4, the captain of the plane will tell passengers to tell a flight attendant if they feel unwell.
These details will then be passed on to public health teams at the airport who will meet the aircraft when it lands and carry out further checks.
There are no plans to introduce blanket temperature screening of all passengers, a spokesman for the DHSC said.
But all passengers on each flight will be given a leaflet explaining how they can seek help if they become unwell while in the UK.
Dr Nick Phin, deputy director of Public Health England’s National Infection Service, said the outbreak is a ‘new and rapidly evolving situation’.
He confirmed the risk of the virus spreading to the UK is now considered low, an upgrade to the ‘very low’ threat that the agency previously stood by.
PHE announced it was working with the WHO and other international partners and has issued advice to the NHS about how to deal with potential cases.
Thai medical staff wear protective suits transfer a 70-year-old patient, who is suspected of having coronavirus infected after traveling back from Wuhan
The outbreak is believed to have started late last month among people connected to a seafood market in Wuhan, where all six fatalities have happened
The Government body urged visitors to Wuhan to ‘maintain good hand, respiratory and personal hygiene and avoid visiting animal and bird markets’.
Officials also urged travellers to steer clear of ill people with respiratory symptoms, adding Brits should seek medical help if they develop a fever.
And in hope of containing any potential outbreak, PHE said patients fearing they have the virus should phone ahead before attending any health services.
Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, today revealed his team believe up to 10,000 patients in Wuhan may have the virus.
When asked if there could already be a case in the UK.at a press briefing by the Science Media Centre, Professor Ferguson said ‘we can’t rule out the possibility’.
The same team of researchers last week stoked fears of the virus spreading when they warned up to 4,000 patients in Wuhan may be infected.
But the team has now upgraded their estimate, based on how quickly the infection has spread around China and the world.
They used flight data to make the estimate, with figures showing that 3,300 people in Wuhan fly internationally per day.
The report concludes: ‘It is likely the outbreak of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan has caused substantially more cases… than have currently been detected and reported.’
The new coronavirus, which is yet to be named, causes cold-like symptoms including a runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat and a fever.
It comes as it was revealed the killer coronavirus may have come from bats, scientists have said.
A child wears a face mask at Hong Kong’s international airport
Travellers wear masks in the arrival hall of the Hong Kong International Airport amid fears the coronavirus outbreak will spread
A Thai nurse works next to a campaign poster alerting patients of the coronavirus at a hospital in Bangkok. Four cases have been confirmed in Thailand
Staff move bio-waste containers past the entrance of the Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a new virus are being treated
Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the People’s Liberation Army and Institut Pasteur of Shanghai came to the conclusion.
In a statement, the team said: ‘The Wuhan coronavirus’ natural host could be bats… but between bats and humans there may be an unknown intermediate.
Tests of the virus, which has yet to be named, have revealed it targets a protein called ACE2 – just like its cousin SARS, the South China Morning Post reported.
Tracing the evolution of the virus, the team of experts found it belonged to betacoronavirus, making it structurally similar to SARS.
Authorities have pointed the blame on food markets in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak that scientists are scrambling to contain.
Rodents and bats among other animals are slaughtered and sold in traditional ‘wet markets’, which tourists flock to see the ‘real’ side of the country.
Viruses – including ones carried by animals – are constantly changing and may over time become strong enough to infect humans.
A leading Chinese doctor investigating the killer coronavirus has also admitted he has caught the SARS-like infection.
Wang Guangfa, who heads the department of pulmonary medicine at Beijing’s Peking University First Hospital, was part of a team of experts that earlier this month visited Wuhan, where the virus first emerged.
‘I was diagnosed and my condition is fine,’ Dr Wang told Kong’s Cable TV. He said he is receiving treatment and will have an ‘injection’ soon.
Dr Guangfa is one of the national experts that previously said the pneumonia-causing virus, which has never been seen before, was under control.
Chinese quarantine workers wearing protective suits and masks are posted at an entrance to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan
An official uses an infrared thermometer on a traveler at a health screening checkpoint at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport. Wuhan is at the centre of the outbreak
Staff in biohazard suits hold a metal stretcher by the in-patient department of Wuhan Medical Treatment Centre, where patients are being treated for the new coronavirus