Six people in UK being tested for possible coronavirus

Chinese auxiliary police officers wear face masks to avoid contracting coronavirus (Zhao Qirui/ Costfoto/Sipa USA)

Six people in the UK are being tested for potential coronavirus.

Five people have been admitted to hospitals in Scotland and one person is being tested in Northern Ireland.

None of the cases have been confirmed as the virus so far.

However, two of those being tested in Scotland had been diagnosed with influenza after travelling to Wuhan, China, where the virus is thought to have originated.

A third person is “undergoing testing on a similar precautionary basis”.

The Scottish government said in a statement: “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.

Coronavirus: confirmed cases.

“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 sixth person is being tested to rule out coronavirus at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital.

The patient arrived at the hospital showing symptoms which may be associated with the condition but it will be some time before test results are returned.

The patient in Belfast developed flu-like symptoms after travelling from China, according to the BBC.

Downing Street said Boris Johnson “is being kept updated” with “ministers and officials keeping the situation under close review”.

At least 17 people have died in China as a result of the illness, with hundreds more cases confirmed.

On Thursday night, the World Health Organisation’s emergency committee said it was “too early” to declare an international public health emergency over the coronavirus outbreak.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation, said: “Make no mistake. This is an emergency in China.

“But it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one.”

On Wednesday night, China suspended all flights, including international services, out of Wuhan city – the epicentre of the outbreak.

Another city close to Wuhan, Huanggang, is also under quarantine as officials try to contain the spread.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday morning, health secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS is “ready” for an outbreak of coronavirus.

He said: “The chief medical officer has revised the risk to the UK population from very low to low, and has concluded that while there is an increased likelihood that cases may arise in this country, we are well prepared and well equipped to deal with them.

“The UK is one of the first countries to develop a world-leading test for coronavirus, the NHS is ready to respond appropriately to any cases that emerge, clinicians in both primary and secondary care have already received advice covering initial detection and investigation of possible cases, infection control and diagnostics.

“The public can be assured that the whole of the UK is always well prepared for these type of outbreaks and we will remain vigilant and keep our response under constant review in light of emerging scientific evidence.”

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Experts say the UK is well equipped to deal with the virus but that authorities should take the risk seriously.

Prof Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: " I think it unlikely that the Wuhan coronavirus will be cause a major public health issue in the UK in large part because of our existing health system.

“If the outbreak developed into a pandemic with very large number of cases then it would be a very serious issue for us all.

“However, I doubt that this will happen, though we still do need to take the outbreak seriously and monitor the situation carefully.”

A passenger arrives at Heathrow Airport wearing a face masks amid a coronavirus outbreak (SWNS)
Passengers arriving at Heathrow Airport wear face masks as four patients are tested for coronavirus in Scotland (SWNS)

Prof Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said: “For a virus outbreak that was identified around a month ago, the number of exported cases and the recent uplift of numbers is concerning; particularly as the suspected source of the outbreak – a fish market that supposedly also traded in live animals – has been closed for some time.

“This, together with reported chains of human to human transmission means this is an outbreak that the international community needs to take seriously.”