Coronavirus threat level raised after person under quarantine 'threatens to abscond'

Alix Culbertson, news reporter
Members of staff wait as coaches carrying Coronavirus evacuees arrive at Kents Hill Park Training and Conference Centre, in Milton Keynes, after being repatriated to the UK from the coronavirus-hit city of Wuhan in China.

The spread of coronavirus has been declared a "serious and imminent threat" to the British public after a patient in isolation threatened to "abscond".

The announcement by Matt Hancock gives the government additional powers to forcibly quarantine people with coronavirus, which originated in a market in Wuhan, China.

A government source said "there was someone who was threatening to abscond from Arrowe Park", a hospital where Britons evacuated from Wuhan are in isolation - despite all of them signing a contract agreeing to a 14 day quarantine period which ends on Thursday.

Those in quarantine will not be free to leave quarantine and can be forcibly sent into isolation if they pose a threat to public health, the Department of Health added.

Hours after the announcement, the confirmed number of coronavirus cases in the UK rose to eight.

A statement said: "The Secretary of State has made regulations to ensure that the public are protected as far as possible from the transmission of the virus.

"The Secretary of State declares that the incidence or transmission of novel coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health, and the measures outlined in these regulations are considered as an effective means of delaying or preventing further transmission of the virus."

Mr Hancock has designated Arrowe Park Hospital in the Wirral, and Kents Hill Park in Milton Keynes, where dozens of Britons evacuated from Wuhan have been transferred to, as "isolation" facilities.

Wuhan and Hubei province have also been declared an "infected area" by the health secretary.

The Department of Health clarified that the risk to the public "has not changed" and by declaring the outbreak as a "serious and imminent threat" it makes it easier, legally, for health professionals to keep those in isolation at the two sites safe, as well as people across the country.

The latest coronavirus outbreak updates:

Thousands of people remain quarantined on cruise ships docked in Japan and Hong Kong, with 60 more people on Monday testing positive for coronavirus on the Diamond Princess in Yokohama, bringing the total from the ship to 130.

Despite the increase in cases, people in China trickled back to work after the Chinese New Year holiday on Monday, but public transport remained quiet with temperature checks in place.

A team of experts from the World Health Organisation, led by SARS expert Dr Bruce Aylward, is arriving in Beijing on Monday to help assess the latest outbreak.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke to President Xi Jinping and Chinese ministers in late January and agreed to send an international mission, but it has taken nearly two weeks to get the government's green light on who was allowed to go.