Six Chinese patients have been taken to hospitals in Scotland and Northern Ireland to be tested for the killer coronavirus after returning from China with flu-like symptoms, it can be revealed.
The unidentified patients are thought to be from Wuhan, the city at the heart of the outbreak which has killed 18 people – officials today revealed the first person had died outside of Wuhan’s province Hubei.
Up to 10,000 patients in the city may already be infected, experts fear – but only 608 cases have been confirmed, with cases across in nine different countries, including the US, Singapore and Vietnam.
Scientists have today revealed the never-before-seen virus can be spread by coughs and sneezes from someone nearby – not just though saliva or close contact such as hugging.
Tests on five patients in Scotland have yet to rule out coronavirus. It is unclear where they are being treated but sources say they are at both Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital and Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary.
All of them are thought to be in isolation and MailOnline understands they flew in to London in the past fortnight before making their way to Scotland. It is unclear if they are related.
The patient in Northern Ireland – who also travelled from Wuhan, but it is unclear when – is today being treated at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital.
It comes as pressure grows on ministers to do more to protect the public. Health Secretary Matt Hancock sought to reassure the public today as he addressed MPs about the killer outbreak. He promised all passengers on direct flights from China will receive information on what to do if they fall ill.
Passengers from Wuhan last night claimed they were just waved through Heathrow and told to ring NHS 111 if they began to feel ill – despite Government promises of ‘enhanced monitoring’ of flights out of the Hubei city.
Nine Chinese cities and towns, including Wuhan – which has banned all flights in and out of the city, have been placed in quarantine in a desperate attempt to try to contain the SARS-like virus. Shocking videos show how passengers at airports feared to have the virus are being wheeled out in a special ‘quarantine box’.
Officials in China’s capital Beijing today announced major Chinese New Year events have been cancelled because of the constantly-mutating virus, which can cause pneumonia and organ failure.
In a separate development, a passenger on a flight to Los Angeles from Mexico City has been taken to hospital and quarantined after showing ‘disturbing’ symptoms consistent with China’s deadly coronavirus. If confirmed, they will become the second case on America soil. The first case – an unidentified man in his 30s in Washington – is being treated by a robot, it was revealed today.
An airline passenger is wheeled out of an airport in Fuzhou in a quarantine box Fuzhou, amid suspicions he has the coronavirus. It is unclear when the picture was taken
Three passengers – a man and two children – arrive at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 3 this afternoon after flying from China
A cyclist crosses an empty street in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, 23 January. The streets of Wuhan are empty after authorities imposed a complete travel ban on residents
More passengers go through the arrivals hall at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 this afternoon, as fears grow the coronavirus will spread to the UK
A passenger from China arrives at Heathrow this afternoon. It comes as four patients are being tested for coronavirus in Scotland after travelling from China
An older patient arrives at Heathrow Airport this afternoon, wearing a face mask. All UK airports will give information to patients from China on what to do if they fall ill
Pictured, a poster at Heathrow Airport tells passengers to be aware for symptoms including a cough and difficulty breathing
Doctors at the Central Hospital of Wuhan attend to a patient with coronavirus. It is unclear when this picture was taken
Is it has been reported that some of the patients in Scotland are being treated at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow
Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. Scottish Government has not confirmed how many patients are being treated at the hospital
The Daily Record reported that the other patient in Scotland is being treated in Edinburgh, thought to be at the city’s Royal Infirmary (pictured)
The patient in Northern Ireland – who also travelled from Wuhan, but it is unclear when – is today being treated at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital
Chinese authorities say 18 people have died and now more than 600 people have been infected across the world, with cases cropping up in the US, Saudi Arabia and Singapore
The coronavirus can lead to pneumonia, which can kill people by causing them to drown in the fluid flooding their lungs
Three Chinese cities, including Wuhan – which has banned all flights in and out of the city, have been placed in quarantine in a desperate attempt to try to contain the SARS-like virus, which can cause pneumonia and organ failure
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF THE CORONAVIRUS?
Once someone has caught the virus it may take between two and 14 days for them to show any symptoms.
If and when they do, typical signs include:
- a runny nose
- a cough
- sore throat
- fever (high temperature)
The vast majority of patients – at least 97 per cent, based on available data – will recover from these without any issues or medical help.
In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia.
Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.
At first minister’s questions this morning, Nicola Sturgeon said: ‘I should say that the risk to the public in Scotland and, indeed, in the United Kingdom is currently classified as low. But obviously that is kept under review.
‘Health Protection Scotland is liaising with National Health Service boards and is currently in daily contact with Public Health England and liaising daily with colleagues in the UK Department of Health and Social Care.
‘We are also paying close attention to the decisions of and advice from the World Health Organisation. Enhanced monitoring measures have been implemented for flights from Wuhan city to Heathrow.
‘Those will involve each flight being met by a port health team, who will check for symptoms of coronavirus and provide information to all passengers.’
She added: ‘We are considering whether any further information could helpfully be provided at Scottish airports. Obviously, the situation is evolving and we will monitor it extremely closely.
‘The cabinet secretary for health and sport or I will ensure that parliament is appropriately updated in the days and weeks to come.’
Queen Elizabeth University Hospital – which is thought to be treating one of the patients – has yet to issue a statement, saying the Scottish Government would release an update later today.
Senior doctors told the Record that they believe the cases may both be down to just the flu, given the patients’ symptoms.
One source told the newspaper: ‘There was no doubt the situation was being taken seriously because of the symptoms being displayed and the specific origin of travel.
‘The patient came through London to Glasgow and after the symptoms were flagged up no chances were taken.
‘The tests that were carried out could not immediately isolate what the condition might be and it may take a bit longer to be absolutely sure what doctors are dealing with. Obviously they are erring on the side of caution in the meantime.’
Regarding cases, the Prime Minister’s deputy spokesman told reporters: ‘These measures are purely precautionary and nobody has tested positive. We are well prepared and well equipped.’
Scottish Government sources this evening confirmed five patients are being tested – after earlier this afternoon issuing a statement to say the correct figure was just three.
Confusion surrounds the true number of patients being tested, with the Edinburgh Evening News reporting that the three patients were being treated at the city’s Royal Infirmary – and one in Glasgow.
Professor Jurgen Haas, head of infection medicine at the University of Edinburgh, also claimed there were four cases in Scotland – three in Edinburgh and another in Glasgow.
But the Daily Record said a source had revealed two patients had been taken into isolation in Glasgow, saying the city’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital was treating at least one patient and had implemented control measures. It reported a third patient was being tested in Edinburgh.
Discussing the potential spread, Professor Haas said: ‘Here at the University of Edinburgh we have more than 2,000 students from China and they are always coming and going back to China so we are relatively sure we will have cases in the UK from travellers coming back from China.’
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: ‘There are currently no confirmed cases of Coronavirus (WN Co-V) in Scotland and the risk to the Scottish public remains low.
‘Following travel to Wuhan, China, two people confirmed as diagnosed with influenza are now being tested for Wuhan Novel Coronavirus as a precautionary measure only. Three further people are also undergoing testing on a similar precautionary basis.
‘As the situation develops we will update should there be any confirmed cases of Coronavirus, rather than provide a running update on cases being considered on a precautionary basis.’
The BBC today broke the news of the suspected case in Northern Ireland, reporting that it is believed the man is being treated in an isolated ward of the hospital.
Belfast Health Trust, which runs the hospital where the patient is being treated, repeatedly declined to comment to MailOnline about the potential case. The Public Health Agency (PHA) also declined to comment.
It is understood a patient arrived at the Royal Victoria showing symptoms which may or may not be associated with the condition but it will be some time before results are returned.
Coronavirus: What we know so far
What is this virus?
The virus has been identified as a new type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens, most of which cause mild respiratory infections such as the common cold.
But coronaviruses can also be deadly. SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is caused by a coronavirus and killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in the early 2000s.
Can it kill?
Yes. Seventeen people have so far died after testing positive for the virus. What are the symptoms?
Its symptoms are typically a fever, cough and trouble breathing, but some patients have developed pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening infection that causes inflammation of the small air sacs in the lungs. People carrying the novel coronavirus may only have mild symptoms, such as a sore throat. They may assume they have a common cold and not seek medical attention, experts fear.
How is it detected?
The virus’s genetic sequencing was released by scientists in China to the rest of the world to enable other countries to quickly diagnose potential new cases. This helps other countries respond quickly to disease outbreaks.
To contain the virus, airports are detecting infected people with temperature checks. But as with every virus, it has an incubation period, meaning detection is not always possible because symptoms have not appeared yet.
How did it start and spread?
The first cases identified were among people connected to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan.
Cases have since been identified elsewhere which could have been spread through human-to-human transmission.
What are countries doing to prevent the spread?
Countries in Asia have stepped up airport surveillance. They include Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines.
Australia and the US are also screening patients for a high temperature, and the UK announced it will screen passengers returning from Wuhan.
Is it similar to anything we’ve ever seen before?
Experts have compared it to the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The epidemic started in southern China and killed more than 700 people in mainland China, Hong Kong and elsewhere
Mr Hancock today insisted officials would ‘not hesitate’ to ramp up UK measures to protect the home nations from the spread of the deadly Chinese coronavirus.
In parliament this morning, the Health Secretary told MPs: ‘Currently the evidence suggests the vast majority of cases are in Wuhan.
‘Obviously we keep that under constant review and we will not hesitate to take further steps if that’s necessary to protect the British public.’
He added: ‘We have been closely monitoring the situation in Wuhan and have put in place proportionate, precautionary measures.’
His comments came amid growing fears the safety checks at UK airports were not tough enough.
Shadow health minister Sharon Hodgson said arrivals seemed to be getting ‘virtually no screening’.
And she asked if flights from other Chinese cities would be monitored. Officials said yesterday just passengers from Wuhan would be monitored.
Travellers from the giant city, home to 11million people, were separated last night at Heathrow Airport, as part of a drastic plan to contain any potential spread of the virus.
Ministers announced the Wuhan flight – one of three direct flights that go to London each week – would land in an isolated area of Terminal 4, and passengers would be met by a team of medics.
But holiday-makers arriving from the virus-hit city expressed their shock as they were met by a health team but had not been subject to any screening checks.
Instead, they were given a Public Health England leaflet, advising them to contact doctors if they felt ill before being allowed into the country before they were let directly though the airport after baggage reclaim and immigration checks. One said it felt like a ‘completely normal flight’.
By contrast, countries including the US, Malaysia and Singapore have introduced more rigorous checks, with all passengers coming in from Wuhan are having their temperature taken, regardless of whether they have any symptoms.
And Britain is carrying no checks on passengers coming in to Britain on the dozens of flights originating from Wuhan which come via Bangkok in Thailand, Shanghai in China or Hong Kong.
Wuhan yesterday shut down its entire public transport system as it tried to halt the outbreak of the deadly virus.
People have been told not to leave the area and the airport and train stations will be closed to outgoing passengers, in a week when millions are travelling for the upcoming New Year holiday.
In one video, a man can be seen ‘disinfecting’ eerily quiet streets of Wuhan, with billowing fumes filling the air outside an apartment block
Passengers at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport Authority are scanned by thermal imaging for body temperature as they go through health measures and procedures against deadly SARS-like virus
A pictured captured today shows healthcare workers fitted with face masks helping a mother and child in Hong Kong
THE KILLER VIRUS MAY HAVE COME FROM BATS, SCIENTISTS SAY
The killer coronavirus sweeping across the world may have come from bats, scientists have said.
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.
In other developments announced today:
- Cases have now been reported in 25 provinces in China, with 599 patients now infected overall across the entire world
- Matt Hancock insisted the Government would ‘not hesitate’ to increase measures to protect the UK from the spread of the coronavirus
- In a separate intervention, he promised all passengers on direct flights from China will receive information on what to do if they fall ill
- Two police stations in Bristol were shut down amid fears that a Chinese detainee was carrying the deadly coronavirus
- A leading virologist who helped tackle the SARS epidemic in Asia in 2003 warned there could be an outbreak 10 times worse than the health crisis two decades ago
- Patients suspected to have the infection are being tested in Colombia, Brazil, Mexico and Canada – none have yet to be confirmed
- Technology giant Huawei has postponed its annual developer conference in China by more than a month following the outbreak of coronavirus
- US authorities said at least 16 people are monitored in Washington State after coming into contact with a man there who is infected
- Wuhan is planning to build a dedicated hospital in six days in a desperate bid to stop an outbreak of the life-threatening infection
- Social media has shown chaotic scenes in Wuhan, the London-sized Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak, as it comes to the end of its first day in lockdown
- Wuhan’s Health Commission said the city is ‘witnessing a fast growing trend of fever patients’ and hospitals are facing bed shortages
Two cities close to Wuhan – which yesterday ordered all residents to wear face masks in public places – would be locked down.
Ezhou has shut down train stations, and Huanggang will suspend public buses and trains and order cinemas and internet cafes to close their doors.
Officials in Beijing, the Chinese capital home to 21million people, today announced all major Chinese New Year events in the city have been cancelled.
Fears of the coronavirus today, which has yet to be officially named, have grown as Saudi Arabia claimed to have become the tenth country to declare a confirmed case.
An Indian nurse working at al-Hayat hospital caught coronavirus, reports said. Around 100 nurses were tested – but only one was found to have the virus.
Al-Hayat Hospital is in Khamis Mushait, some 560 miles (900 km) southwest of the capital Riyadh. The minister added that the nurses had been quarantined and tested due to the threat.
But India’s consulate in Jeddah have now dismissed the claim, saying the nurse actually only had Mers – or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, another type of coronavirus.
Another clip reportedly shows an airline passenger with suspected SARS-like being wheeled out of an airport in a quarantine box
Quarantine tents appear to have been set-up on the outskirts to isolate anyone showing symptoms in a pop-up medical area
Health officials say the first American man infected with the coronavirus may have come in contact with at least 16 people before he was put in isolation. The unnamed man from Washington state flew in to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport from China on January 15 and returned to his home in Snahomish County before being diagnosed with the virus five days later on January 20
The Washington state patient who became the first recorded case of the new coronavirus in America is currently in isolation at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett (pictured)
WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION POISED TO DECLARE CORONAVIRUS AN EMERGENCY FOR ONLY SIXTH TIME EVER – SO WHICH OTHER OUTBREAKS HAVE
2009 Swine flu epidemic
In 2009 ‘Swine flu’ was identified for the first time in Mexico and was named because it is a similar virus to one which affects pigs. The outbreak is believed to have killed as many as 575,400 people.
2014 Poliovirus resurgence
Poliovirus began to resurface in countries where it had once been eradicated, and the WHO called for a widespread vaccination programme to stop it spreading. Cameroon, Pakistan and Syria were most at risk.
2014 and 2019 Ebola outbreaks
Ebola killed at least 11,000 people across the world after it spread like wildfire through Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2014, 2015 and 2016. More than 28,000 people were infected in what was the worst ever outbreak of the disease. Almost 4,000 people were struck down with the killer virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo last year.
2016 Zika outbreak
Zika, a tropical disease which can cause serious birth defects if it infects pregnant women, was the subject of an outbreak in Brazil’s capital, Rio de Janeiro, in 2016.
Vietnam has also reported two cases this afternoon. Reports say the father and son, whose identities haven’t been revealed, had arrived from Wuhan. Both are said to be in a good condition.
Singapore announced just hours before that it also had a confirmed case, with a 66-year-old man also from Wuhan testing positive for the virus.
Four cases have also been recorded in Thailand and two in Hong Kong. Taiwan, Japan, Macau and South Korea have all reported one case.
The US has also reported a case – an unidentified man from Washington state, who is in his 30s. It was revealed today that he had came into close contact with at least 16 people before he was put in isolation.
According to health officials, he wasn’t diagnosed until Monday, January 20 – five days after he landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport from China. He did not fly directly from Wuhan, where he originally set off from. Nor did he visit any of the markets thought to be at the source of the outbreak.
The patient is being treated by a robot armed with a stethoscope in a small, 20-foot-by-20-foot room at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Business Insider reported today.
Officials today warned the US is expected to see additional cases. Washington state Health Secretary John Wiesman predicted that the number of Americans infected would likely grow as the coronavirus continues its spread at a faster rate than previously thought.
‘I would expect that at some point we’re going to have more cases in the US,’ Wiesman said, noting that there is no need to panic as public health officials are well-equipped to handle and contain outbreaks.
Dr Martin Cetron, director for the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine at the US’s Centers for Disease Control, said the CDC has instructed the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Department to redirect anyone who tries to get from Wuhan to the US without going through any of the five airports set-up for screening.
He described funneling as ‘a very complex process that involves reissuing tickets and rerouting passengers from all over the globe through connecting indirect flights’.
CDC officials have also suggested the possibility of redirecting entire flights inbound from China through airports with screening checkpoints.
Shoppers are pictured in a supermarket in Wuhan, where people are complaining that food prices have risen and videos showed people scrapping over groceries (Picture taken today, January 23)
Medical workers in Hong Kong are dressed in protective gear which they have to wear while dealing with suspected coronavirus patients (Pictured today, January 23)
People covering their mouths with masks are pictured having their temperatures checked at Hangzhou railway station in the east of China today, January 23
INFECTED US PATIENT ‘CAME INTO CONTACT WITH 16 PEOPLE BEFORE HE WAS ISOLATED’
The American man who was infected with China’s new coronavirus came into close contact with at least 16 people before he was put in isolation, according to health officials.
The unnamed man from Washington state, who is in his 30s, had his illness publicly confirmed on Tuesday, January 21, making him the first Westerner to be infected.
Officials in the US now say he may have encountered – and therefore potentially infected – 16 or more people in America since catching the bug.
He wasn’t diagnosed until Monday, January 20, after returning home from China five days earlier and becoming ill later that week.
When a traveller is sent for a screening in the US, they are first required to take a survey about possible symptoms, such as cough or fever, as well as whether they visited the meat or seafood markets in Wuhan that have been tied to the outbreak.
If they appear to have any symptoms associated with coronavirus, they are taken to on-site triage for further examination and a temperature check.
Two passengers flying from Shanghai on United Airlines were reportedly examined at O’Hare on Tuesday after appearing to show symptoms of coronavirus, the airline said.
It’s unclear what led officials to single out the passengers, but they were both cleared and released after examination.
President Donald Trump addressed the deadly new virus during remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, early Wednesday morning. He praised the CDC’s rapid response and said the situation is being handled ‘very well’.
Clips posted on Twitter claim to show the impact the unprecedented decision to shut down Wuhan has had, with deserted streets reminiscent of the disaster film 28 Days Later.
Traffic has piled up on the city’s major roads, which have been blocked by police vans enforcing travel bans.
In one video an eerily quiet street is seen being ‘disinfected’, with billowing fumes filling the air, while another shows huge ‘quarantine tents’ lining a neighbourhood.
Airline passengers queue today, January 23, at an airport in Hong Kong while wearing face masks to try and stop themselves catching the deadly virus
Travellers wear face masks as a precautionary measure at Hong Kong International Airport, pictured today
Pedestrians cover their faces in Hong Kong today, January 23. At least two people have been infected in Hong Kong, which is part of the same land mass as China
Medical staff at Huazhong University of Science and Technology today attended a ceremony to form a ‘assault team’ in the fight against the coronavirus
‘LEAVE YOUR OFFICE AND SHUT THE PATIENT IN’, UK DOCTORS TOLD IN CORONAVIRUS WARNING
Doctors in the UK have been told to leave the room straight away and shut their patient in if they think they might have the Chinese coronavirus.
Public Health England has issued official guidance for doctors as concerns grow that the contagious illness will make its way to the UK.
Almost 600 people have now been infected in Asia and 17 have died. Health authorities and university experts say it is likely cases will appear in Europe and the UK.
No cases have been confirmed in the UK yet, but the Government last night screened patients arriving at Heathrow from the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak, Wuhan.
At least 15 medical workers in Wuhan have become infected while treating patients with the virus.
The PHE guidance, which was issued to GP practice doctors this week, reads: ‘If [the Wuhan coronavirus] is considered possible when a consultation is already in progress, withdraw from the room, close the door and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
‘Avoid physical examination of a suspected case. The patient should remain in the room with the door closed. Belongings and waste should remain in the room.
‘Advise others not to enter the room. If a clinical history still needs to be obtained or completed, do this by telephone.
‘The patient should not be allowed to use communal toilet facilities.
‘Instruct them to not touch anything or anyone when walking to the toilet. Instruct the patient to wash their hands thoroughly after toileting.’
If the patient is critically ill, they should be put into an ambulance, PHE said.
But otherwise, a hospital should be phoned ahead and warned and the patient must be told to get there without using public transport or a taxi.
Another clip reportedly shows an airline passenger being wheeled out of an airport in a quarantine box, amid suspicions he has the coronavirus.
Wearing a protective suit, a mask and gloves, the man allegedly showed symptoms during screening and was isolated from other travellers.
Social media users complained that shops have bumped up the price of fresh produce and shoppers have been seen physically fighting a crowded supermarket.
One Twitter user, the BBC reported, said the threat of food shortages and disinfectant in the street made it feel like ‘the end of the world’.
A top official at the National Institute of Health (NIH) revealed yesterday that human trials for a vaccine targeting 2019-nCoV, what scientists have temporarily labelled it, could begin within three months.
Anthony Fauci told Bloomberg Law that his agency is working with Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech company Moderna Inc to develop the vaccine.
‘We’re already working on it,’ he said. ‘And hopefully in a period of about three months, we’ll be able to start a phase I trial in humans.’
Vaccine experts at Baylor University are also reportedly working on modifying a vaccine they designed to prevent SARS to protect against the new, related coronavirus.
But the school’s Dean of Tropical Medicine, which is developing the shot, Dr Peter Hotez, has already told DailyMail.com that it’s likely years away from deployment.
An Oxford University expert yesterday said the outbreak so far has been ‘extraordinary’. Dr Peter Horby said: ‘We haven’t seen this large-scale spread since SARS.’
Speaking about whether he thought the World Health Organisation should declare it an international emergency, he added: ‘There are three criteria – one, is this an extraordinary event? Two, is it spreading internationally? Three, is an international response required? In my opinion all three of these have been met.’
SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is caused by the SARS coronavirus. It first emerged in China in 2002.
By the end of a nine-month outbreak, the virus had spread to several other Asian countries as well as the UK and Canada, killing 775 and infecting more than 8,000.
Experts from the WHO will meet again today to decide whether to declare an global health emergency over China’s coronavirus.
A decision was expected yesterday, but Dr Tedros Adhanom, director general of the WHO, said pushed it back saying the committee needed more information.
He said: ‘The decision about whether or not to declare a public health emergency of international concern is one I take extremely seriously, and one I am only prepared to make with appropriate consideration of all the evidence.’
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE DEADLY CORONAVIRUS IN CHINA?
It emerged today that the deadly new virus spreading across Asia is far more contagious than previously thought and someone who is infected can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.
Eighteen people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 600 have been infected in at least 10 countries. But experts predict the true number of people with the disease could be as many as 10,000 as they warn it may kill as many as two in 100 cases. Here’s what we know so far:
What is the Wuhan coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. It is an RNA virus (RNA is a type of genetic material called ribonucleic acid), which means it breaks into cells inside the host of the virus and uses them to reproduce itself.
This coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It is currently named 2019-nCoV, and does not have a more detailed name because so little is known about it.
Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals.
‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses).
‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’
The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, three weeks ago after medics first started seeing cases in December.
By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.
The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 4,500.
Today, just one week later, there have been more than 600 confirmed cases and those same scientists estimate that some 4,000 – possibly 9,700 – were infected in Wuhan alone. There are now 10 countries with confirmed cases and 18 people have died.
Where does the virus come from?
Nobody knows for sure. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.
The first cases of the virus in Wuhan came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in the city, which has since been closed down for investigation.
Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals weere being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat.
Bats are a prime suspect – researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences said in a recent statement: ‘The Wuhan coronavirus’ natural host could be bats… but between bats and humans there may be an unknown intermediate.’
And another scientific journal article has suggested the virus first infected snakes, which may then have transmitted it to people at the market in Wuhan.
Peking University researchers analysed the genes of the coronavirus and said they most closely matched viruses which are known to affect snakes. They said: ‘Results derived from our evolutionary analysis suggest for the first time that snake is the most probable wildlife animal reservoir for the 2019-nCoV,’ in the Journal of Medical Virology.
So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it?
Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.
It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs.
Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.
Speaking at a briefing yesterday, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.
‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than 1 in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’
If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die.
‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.
‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’
How does the virus spread?
Information has emerged today, Thursday, suggesting that the illness may spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection.
It is believed to travel in the saliva and therefore close contact, kissing and sharing cutlery or utensils are risky. Because it infects the lungs, it is also likely present in droplets people cough up which, when inhaled, can infect the next person.
Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.
There is now evidence that it can spread third hand – to someone from a person who caught it from another person.
What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?
Once someone has caught the virus it may take between two and 14 days for them to show any symptoms.
If and when they do, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients – at least 97 per cent, based on available data – will recover from these without any issues or medical help.
In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.
What have genetic tests revealed about the virus?
Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world.
This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.
Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.
However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, yesterday said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.
This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.
More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.
How dangerous is the virus?
The virus has so far killed 18 people out of a total of at least 600 officially confirmed cases – a death rate of around three per cent. This is a higher death rate than the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.
However, experts say the true number of patients is likely considerably higher. Imperial College London researchers estimate that there were 4,000 (up to 9,700) cases in Wuhan city alone up to January 18 – officially there have only been 444 there to date. If cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the death rate may be considerably lower.
Experts say it is likely only the most seriously ill patients are seeking help and are therefore recorded – the vast majority will have only mild, cold-like symptoms. For those whose conditions do become more severe, there is a risk of developing pneumonia which can destroy the lungs and kill you.
Can the virus be cured?
The Wuhan coronavirus cannot currently be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.
Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.
No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.
The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.
Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.
People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.
And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).
However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.
Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?
The outbreak has not officially been confirmed as either an epidemic or a pandemic yet. This is likely because, despite the global concern, the number of people who have been confirmed to be infected is still relatively low.
A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.
An epidemic is when a disease takes hold of a smaller community, such as a single country, region or continent.