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Coronavirus: Britons evacuated from Wuhan to be quarantined in Milton Keynes | World news


Around 150 Britons being flown back from the coronavirus-hit city of Wuhan on Sunday will be quarantined at a facility in Milton Keynes.

South Central Ambulance Service said that Kents Hill Park, a conference centre and hotel, will be used to house the returning citizens after they land at RAF Brize Norton.

They will remain at the site in isolation for 14 days, it added.

Everyone boarding the plane at the Chinese city, which is the centre of the outbreak, will be assessed and continue to be monitored after landing in the UK on Sunday morning.

On Tuesday, Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said that the flight would be the final service chartered by the Foreign Office to bring UK nationals back from the Chinese city.

What is the virus causing illness in Wuhan?

It is a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. Many of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city.

What other coronaviruses have there been?

New and troubling viruses usually originate in animal hosts. Ebola and flu are other examples – severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals. 

What are the symptoms of the Wuhan coronavirus?

The virus causes pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. If people are admitted to hospital, they may get support for their lungs and other organs as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health.

Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?

Human to human transmission has been confirmed by China’s national health commission, and there have been human-to-human transmissions in the US and in Germany. As of 7 February, the death toll stands at 636 inside China, one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines. Infections inside China stand at 31,161 and global infections have passed 280 in 28 countries. The mortality rate is 2%.

Two members of one family have been confirmed to have the virus in the UK, and a third person was diagnosed with it in Brighton, after more than 400 were tested and found negative. The Foreign Office has urged UK citizens to leave China if they can.

The number of people to have contracted the virus could be far higher, as people with mild symptoms may not have been detected. Modelling by World Health Organization (WHO) experts at Imperial College London suggests there could be as many as 100,000 cases, with uncertainty putting the margins between 30,000 and 200,000.

Why is this worse than normal influenza, and how worried are the experts?

We don’t yet know how dangerous the new coronavirus is, and we won’t know until more data comes in. The mortality rate is around 2%. However, this is likely to be an overestimate since many more people are likely to have been infected by the virus but not suffered severe enough symptoms to attend hospital, and so have not been counted. For comparison, seasonal flu typically has a mortality rate below 1% and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths each year globally. Sars had a death rate of more than 10%.

Should I go to the doctor if I have a cough?

Unless you have recently travelled to China or been in contact with someone infected with the virus, then you should treat any cough or cold symptoms as normal. The NHS advises that people should call 111 instead of visiting the GP’s surgery as there is a risk they may infect others.

Is this a pandemic and should we panic?

Health experts are starting to say it could become a pandemic, but right now it falls short of what the WHO would consider to be one. A pandemic, in WHO terms, is “the worldwide spread of a disease”. Coronavirus cases have been confirmed in about 25 countries outside China, but by no means in all 195 on the WHO’s list.

There is no need to panic. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. The WHO has declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern, and says there is a “window of opportunity” to halt the spread of the disease. The key issues are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital. Often viruses that spread easily tend to have a milder impact.

Sarah Boseley Health editor and Hannah Devlin 

The ambulance service said the presence of the group in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, does not present a risk to local people.

“The local site has been chosen because it offers appropriate accommodation and other facilities for those coming back from Wuhan while they stay in Milton Keynes,” the ambulance service said.

“It also allows their health to be regularly monitored and has the necessary medical facilities close at hand should they be required.”

All staff working at the facility will wear appropriate protective equipment at all times.

Britons who returned on a flight from the stricken city last month were taken to Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral.

The Department of Health and Social Care said that 620 people in the UK have been tested for coronavirus as of 2pm Friday, with three cases confirmed.

On Friday night it emerged that a woman and her baby son who had been in quarantine in Northern Ireland have tested negative for the disease. They had been admitted to Derry’s Altnagelvin Hospital on Thursday after returning to the country from Hong Kong.

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the outbreak of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection. There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces. The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit – but not eliminate – the risks, provided they are used correctly.

Justin McCurry

It is understood that the third person in the UK to test positive for coronavirus caught the illness in Singapore.

He is reported to be a middle-aged British man and is understood to be the first UK national to contract the disease.

The man is thought to have been diagnosed in Brighton and was transferred to St Thomas’ Hospital in London, where there is an infectious disease unit, on Thursday afternoon.

Two other patients, who had recently travelled from China, are still being treated at the Royal Victoria Infirmary infectious diseases centre in Newcastle.

One is a student at the University of York, while the other is a family member.

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