Channel 4 worker taken to hospital for coronavirus test

Ben Quinn and Caroline Bannock
Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

A Channel 4 employee who was met by NHS staff in protective clothing at the broadcaster’s London headquarters is among the latest people in Britain to have undergone precautionary testing for the coronavirus.

What is the virus causing the illness that started Wuhan?


The virus is officially called Sars-CoV-2 and this causes the disease Covid-19. 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 coronavirus?


The virus can cause 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.

Coronavirus outbreak: What are the symptoms?


Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?


China’s national health commission has confirmed human-to-human transmission, and there have been such transmissions elsewhere. As of 12 February there are now 45,182 confirmed cases and 1,115 deaths. There are cases in 28 other countries outside China, with deaths recorded in one case in Hong Kong, and one case in the Philippines. The number of people to have contracted the virus overall could be far higher, as people with mild symptoms may not have been detected.

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK has doubled from four to eight after four more people in Brighton were diagnosed with the infection over the weekend.

There are nine cases of the virus in the UK. Four were located in Brighton, one in London. At Arrowe Park Hospital in Merseyside 83 people in quarantine were told they would be allowed to leave on Thursday after they all tested negative. Of the 1,750 tests carried out so far in the UK, more than 99% had been negative.


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 broadcaster’s member of staff is understood to have been on holiday in China in the last month and felt unwell. He is not a journalist and had not been to Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak.

The man, who went to hospital on Thursday from Channel 4’s office in Horseferry Road, London, has now returned home and is awaiting his test results.

One source said the individual had been at work over the past 10 days before becoming ill, and there was anger that he had not been offered the opportunity to work from home. An ambulance with NHS staff in what were described as “hazmat” suits arrived to pick him up.

A Channel 4 spokesperson said: “On Thursday a member of staff who had travelled to Asia within the last month felt unwell.

“As a precautionary measure they decided to seek medical advice and, in line with the latest public health advice regarding the coronavirus, they were taken to hospital for a precautionary test. We have informed our staff of this and continue to follow all the latest public health guidance.”

The UK’s chief medical officers are advising anyone experiencing a cough, fever or shortness of breath who has travelled to the UK from mainland China, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau in the past 14 days to stay indoors and call NHS 111.

More than 1,750 people have been tested for the virus in the UK, of which nine were confirmed positive.