Tests for coronavirus on 14 people in the UK have come back negative but checks are being carried out on other people, the chief medical officer has said.
Prof Chris Whitty made the announcement on Friday after the Cobra emergency committee met to discuss the threat to the UK and the government sought to calm concerns over the virus, emphasising that the risk to the public was limited.
Prof Paul Cosford, emeritus medical director at Public Health England, said it was still “early days” in the course of the virus and stressed that most of those affected in other countries were making a good recovery.
However, he said, it was highly likely that cases would be seen in the UK.
Hancock said the risk to the UK public remained low.
“The clinical advice is that the risk to the public remains low and the chief medical officer will be making a full statement later today,” he said as he left the Cabinet Office.
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, or possibly seafood. New and troubling viruses usually originate in animal hosts. Ebola and flu are examples.
What other coronaviruses have there been?
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 are known to have been already in poor health.
Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?
In the past week, the number of confirmed infections has more than tripled and cases have been found in 13 provinces, as well as the municipalities Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Tianjin. The virus has also been confirmed outside China, in Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the US, and Vietnam. There have not been any confirmed cases in the UK at present, with the 14 people tested for the virus all proving negative. The actual number to have contracted the virus could be far higher as people with mild symptoms may not have been detected.
How worried are the experts?
There were fears that the coronavirus might spread more widely during the week-long lunar new year holidays, which start on 24 January, when millions of Chinese travel home to celebrate, but the festivities have largely been cancelled and Wuhan and other Chinese cities are in lockdown.
At what point should you go to the doctor if you have a cough, say?
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 there is generally no need to visit a doctor for a cough unless it is persistent or you are having other symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing or you feel very unwell.
Should we panic?
No. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. It increases the likelihood that the World Health Organization will declare the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern on Thursday evening. The key concerns are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital.
Cosford told the Today programme earlier on Friday that contingency plans were ready should cases be detected.
“I think it’s highly likely that we will have cases in the UK, and of course every so often we do get new infections coming from the animal kingdom, such as this one,” he said.
“We do have a whole range of plans ready to go when that is the case and these are being implemented now so our systems are ready to diagnose somebody if they do come to the UK and have this infection. And of course the NHS is prepared to treat people, if they have this infection.”
The Scottish government confirmed on Thursday that five people were being tested after presenting with symptoms of the illness, and it is understood another patient was tested at Belfast’s Royal Victoria hospital.
Two of those being tested in Scotland had been diagnosed with flu after travelling to Wuhan in China, the origin of the global outbreak.
Downing Street said four of the five suspected cases in Scotland were believed to involve Chinese nationals.
The official death toll in China has risen to 26 with more than 830 confirmed cases.