83 quarantined Brits let home after testing negative for coronavirus
And they’re out! 83 Brits quarantined in NHS unit on the Wirral after being evacuated from Wuhan start leaving unit after testing negative for the killer coronavirus following 14 days in isolation
- Officials confirmed all of the 83 Britons tested negative for the SARS-2 virus
- All of the group had signed a contract agreeing to be quarantined for 14 days
- They arrived at the unit on January 31 on the first of three British rescue flights
- Do you know any of the cases in the UK? Email [email protected]
- More than 60,000 people have now caught the virus and 1,360 have since died
The 83 Brits quarantined in an NHS unit on the Wirral over coronavirus fears have begun to leave the unit after testing negative for the deadly virus following a 14-day stint in isolation.
Matt Raw, the first evacuee from the Chinese city of Wuhan to be pictured leaving Arrowe Park Hospital, gave photographers a thumbs up as he was let out of a gate guarded by two security guards.
The 38-year-old, from Knutsford, Cheshire, shouted ‘we’re free and the sun’s shining’ as he left isolation. He joked: ‘It is absolutely lovely to be out and I’ll no doubt be going out for a pint a little bit later.’
Excited Brits were pictured smiling and putting their thumbs up on the first coach leaving the hospital. The rest of the evacuees will be released before 3pm, with small groups being offloaded onto coaches going to all four corners of the UK.
It comes after one of the 83 Brits, who were flown back to the UK on Friday, January 31, reportedly left a heartwarming note on a window praising staff for their ‘smiles, gifts and flowers’.
Health officials confirmed all of the group – who had signed a contract agreeing to be quarantined when they landed at RAF Brize Norton – had tested negative for the killer SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock thanked the quarantined Britons for their ‘bravery’ and ‘patience’, admitting that it will not have been an ‘easy time’. They were all on the first of three British repatriation flights.
Eleven evacuees are still holed up inside the unit after being taken back to the UK on a second flight on Sunday, February 2. They are expected home this weekend.
It comes after the first case of the never-before-seen coronavirus was confirmed in London last night – the woman caught the virus in China.
In other developments to the escalating outbreak today:
- More than 60,000 people have now caught the virus – a 33 per cent jump in the space of just 24 hours
- Chinese officials have confirmed yesterday was the deadliest day of the outbreak, with 242 deaths recorded, taking the toll past 1,350
- China has fired two top officials in coronavirus-stricken Hubei province, which is home to Wuhan
- Japan records its first coronavirus death – making it just the third place outside of China to declare a fatality
- An eight-month-old boy with pre-existing health problems is feared to be the youngest Briton with coronavirus
- Doctors have warned the London Underground could be a hotbed for the spread of coronavirus
- Another 44 people have tested positive for coronavirus on board quarantined cruise ship the Diamond Princess in Japan, with 218 now infected
- Cancelling or postponing the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is not being considered despite the coronavirus outbreak, organisers have said
- Makeshift coronavirus isolation ‘pods’ have emerged at hospitals across England as the country is on high alert for new cases of the illness
- Many more people in the UK may need to self-isolate in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus, the chief executive of the NHS has said
Matt Raw, the first evacuee from Wuhan to be pictured leaving Arrowe Park Hospital, gave photographers a thumbs up as he was let out of a gate guarded by two security guards
Excited Brits were pictured smiling and putting their thumbs up on a coach leaving Arrowe Park Hospital. It is unclear where they were heading
A coach arrives at Arrowe Park Hospital to take the 83 quarantined Brits home
Matt Raw, who is originally from Knutsford, Cheshire, but moved to Wuhan last year, earlier this week said: ‘I don’t think anybody has a reason to complain here’ (pictured outside Arrowe Park Hospital today)
Matt Raw made the flight at short notice, after initially being told that his Chinese wife, Ying, who has a visitor visa for the UK, would not be allowed to travel. When the Chinese authorities decided to ease the restrictions, Mr Raw was able to make the flight with his wife and 75-year-old mother, Hazel
In a note left to staff, one of the quarantined Brits said: ‘Dear staff, I didn’t want to leave without expressing my deepest gratitude for what you have done for us over these past two weeks’
Health officials confirmed all of the isolated 83 Britons tested negative for the killer SARS-2 virus, following a 13-day stint at Arrowe Park Hospital (pictured today)
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 lung 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 the Wuhan coronavirus kill?
Yes – 1,369 people have so far died after testing positive for the virus.
What are the symptoms?
Some people who catch the Wuhan coronavirus may not have any symptoms at all, or only very mild ones like a sore throat or a headache.
Others may suffer from a fever, cough or trouble breathing.
And a small proportion of patients will go on to develop severe infection which can damage the lungs or cause pneumonia, a life-threatening condition which causes swelling and fluid build-up in the lungs.
How is it detected?
The virus’s genetic sequencing was released by scientists in China and countries around the world have used this to create lab tests, which must be carried out to confirm an infection.
Delays to these tests, to test results and to people getting to hospitals in China, mean the number of confirmed cases is expected to be just a fraction of the true scale of the outbreak.
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 around China and are known to have spread from person to person.
What are countries doing to prevent the spread?
Countries all over the world have banned foreign travellers from crossing their borders if they have been to China within the past two weeks. Many airlines have cancelled or drastically reduced flights to and from mainland China.
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.
SCROLL DOWN TO SEE MAILONLINE’S FULL Q&A ON THE CORONAVIRUS
As he left Arrowe Park Hospital, Mr Raw said: ‘Some good fresh air and very, very, very happy that all 83 of us have tested negative for the virus and I guess now back to business as usual.
‘It has not been that bad because they have looked after us so excellently. The wonderful, wonderful staff of the NHS, they have really done their very best to make us as comfortable as possible.
‘We’re not prisoners. They’re trying to make us feel like, if anything, we’re just on holiday for a couple of weeks, maybe without the swimming pool.’
Mr Raw added: ‘I would say that 99.9 per cent of us, if not 100 per cent of us, are really happy to have been here. We’re very grateful to have been here.
‘The last thing that any one of us would have wanted is to have passed that virus on, if we were infected, to pass it on to somebody else. You have to live with that. If somebody does get sick from it and dies we’d have to live with that knowledge for the rest of our lives and of course that’s not who we are.
‘Most of us travel a lot, we travel extensively, and there are risks associated with that so we do take ourselves seriously as ex-pats and we want to be as responsible as possible and if that means staying in quarantine for a couple of weeks so be it.’
He said reports of someone trying to leave the quarantine facility earlier in the week were a case of ‘mistaken identity’ as security had thought a member of staff was a patient. The attempt prompted the Health Secretary to hurry in a draconian new law giving police officers the power to handcuff suspected coronavirus patients and force them back into quarantine.
Mr Raw said he was ‘ecstatic’ when he tested negative for the virus. He said: ‘We were ecstatic for ourselves but not just ourselves, of course, for everybody here. For 83 of us to all come back and all test negative was just absolutely phenomenally good news.’
Mr Raw said there were people who were ‘very anxious’ about contracting the virus. He added: ‘Personally, I’ve cheated death quite a few times on my travels over the years and I guess this is just another one to tick off the list.’
He said he planned to go home, turn the heating on and feed the goldfish after leaving the hospital, adding: ‘It’ll be lovely to be back and to see friends and family.’
Mr Raw made the flight at short notice, after initially being told that his Chinese wife, Ying, who has a visitor visa for the UK, would not be allowed to travel. When the Chinese authorities decided to ease the restrictions, Mr Raw was able to make the flight with his wife and 75-year-old mother, Hazel.
Kharn Lambert, one of the quarantined patients in Merseyside, said: ‘I’m ecstatic and I’m so happy that everyone has come back with negative test results.’
Discussing the release of the first evacuees, Mr Hancock said: ‘Today marks the end of fourteen days of supported isolation for over eighty people in the Wirral.
Staff in high-visibility jackets at the facility at Arrowe Park Hospital on Merseyside
A security guard stands outside Arrowe Park Hospital. Ten evacuees are still holed up inside the unit after being taken back to the UK on a second flight on Sunday, February 2
Earlier this week it was announced that a person staying at the Arrowe Park Hospital tried to leave before completing the 14-day stay after his return from China , breaking the contract they signed before they were rescued
Dear staff, I didn’t want to leave without expressing my deepest gratitude for what you have done for us over these past two weeks.
I arrived as a potential carrier of a deadly virus. I was a little anxious as to how I would be received. I needn’t have been, you greeted us warmly with gifts, cards, flowers and smiles. You made us feel welcome.
In our time of turmoil you took care of us with compassion and professionalism. The experience has been humbling. Not once did I feel you didn’t have enough time to speak to me or help me. You proactively sought to make my confinement there more comfortable. I am one of the 83 but I’m sure my sentiment is shared by us all. Thank you.
‘This will not have been an easy time for them and I would like to express my gratitude for their bravery and patience.
‘Each individual has been given a clean bill of health, and the nation can be reassured that their departure presents no risk to the public.
‘I am incredibly proud of every dedicated healthcare professional who has looked after these individuals over the last fourteen days – their tireless work in exceptional circumstances is a testament to our steadfast NHS.’
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: ‘As our first group of guests leaves Arrowe Park Hospital, we want to thank them for the highly responsible, pragmatic and stoical way they have played their part in keeping both themselves and others safe.
‘They have set an important example, recognising that over the coming weeks many more of us may need to self-isolate at home for a period to reduce this virus’s spread.
‘I particularly also want to thank all the NHS staff who have worked so hard to make their stay as safe and comfortable as possible.
A portacabin is being used as an isolation pod at Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester
At Eastbourne District General Hospital, windowless shipping containers at the side of what appears to be a road in the hospital grounds are used
‘With about 72 hours notice they and subsequently their colleagues in Milton Keynes have mobilised clinical teams, personal support and pastoral care to look after over two hundred people returning to this country under extremely trying circumstances.
‘They have been hugely helped by the volunteers, residents, schools and those from local councils.’
He urged Brits to wash their hands to prevent the spread of infection and call NHS 111 before going to their GP surgery or A&E if they fear they may have the virus.
In a note left to staff, one of the quarantined Brits said: ‘Dear staff, I didn’t want to leave without expressing my deepest gratitude for what you have done for us over these past two weeks.
‘I arrived as a potential carrier of a deadly virus. I was a little anxious as to how I would be received. I needn’t have been, you greeted us warmly with gifts, cards, flowers and smiles. You made us feel welcome.
‘In our time of turmoil you took care of us with compassion and professionalism. The experience has been humbling. Not once did I feel you didn’t have enough time to speak to me or help me. You proactively sought to make my confinement there more comfortable. I am one of the 83 but I’m sure my sentiment is shared by us all. Thank you.’
Earlier this week it was announced a Briton quarantined at Arrowe Park tried to leave before completing the 14-day stay after his return from China.
It prompted Health Secretary Matt Hancock to hurry in a law to give police draconian powers to seize suspected patients and force them into isolation in handcuffs.
Sources claim the quarantined Brits are holding staff to ‘ransom’, demanding alcohol and takeaways during their 13-day stint in isolation.
Security guards at the unit say the 93 evacuees know they can just threaten to leave and ‘get whatever they want’.
One alleged they received their own chefs after complaining about the poor food – but other Brits holed up inside have described it as ‘wonderful’.
A crane delivers a portacabin to University Hospital of North Tees, where it will be used as a coronavirus isolation pod
Blackpool Victoria Hospital has attached a sign to a permanent building, indicating that suspected coronavirus patients should go there
HOW MANY CASES HAVE BEEN RECORDED ACROSS THE WORLD?
A source said one got drunk and threatened to leave so officials told him if he left he’d have to pay for his flight and all the food and items he had been given.
Photographers caught crates of beer in the boot of a car being delivered just days after the ‘drunk’ tried to leave.
Discussing the release of the Brits today, Joan Hawkins, 79, who lives close to Arrowe Park, said: ‘They had to go somewhere and you have to feel sorry for them.
‘Obviously you don’t want them here so close to you, but I don’t see that there’s anything else they could do. You have to wonder why they were brought to the Wirral when there’s all these big hospital in London, I just think it’s strange.
‘But it’s good news they are all clear, they have to go home sometime and it can’t be very pleasant being kept away from their families and it’s a relief for the people who live here.’
A resident and local taxi driver who wanted to remain anonymous said: ‘I’ve caught norovirus three times and swine flu once from picking up patients at the hospital but I’m not concerned because they’ve been in quarantine.
‘It’s just like a normal flu epidemic, think how many people die from the flu in the UK, it’s only a threat to you if you’re not fit and healthy.
‘The problem is now that people who have been to Wuhan have travelled back and don’t know if they’re got it or if they’re spreading it, they should have closed off travel from China as soon as it broke out.’
As well as the 10 Brits still holed up in Arrowe Park, one man is being held at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford as a precaution.
Anthony May-Smith was on the second flight from Wuhan, which landed at the RAF Brize Norton military base in Oxfordshire.
Almost 30 countries around the world have recorded cases of the killer coronavirus, which has been named by scientists as SARS-CoV-2
More than 60,000 people have now caught the virus – a 33 per cent jump in the space of just 24 hours
Chinese officials have confirmed yesterday was the deadliest day of the outbreak, with 242 deaths recorded taking the toll past 1,350
MAKESHIFT ISOLATION ‘PODS’ EMERGE AT HOSPITALS ACROSS THE UK
Makeshift coronavirus isolation ‘pods’ have emerged at hospitals across England as the country is on high alert for new cases of the illness.
The NHS has ordered all hospitals to set up the isolation booths so they can send people there if they are suspected to have the coronavirus, named SARS-CoV-2.
Pictures show rusty portacabins and windowless shipping containers being used for the purpose on the grounds outside of hospitals’ main buildings or in car parks.
Health service bosses said there must be facilities in placer to keep suspected patients away from the general public while they’re assessed over the phone by medics.
Hospitals in Hartlepool, Stevenage, Preston, Blackpool, Eastbourne, Brighton and Bournemouth have reportedly been seen with the pods outside.
He was whisked off to the hospital after complaining of a cough and sore throat on the flight home. It is unclear when he will be released.
A further 105 Brits are holed-up at Kents Park Hill hotel in Milton Keynes after being evacuated on the last flight home on Sunday, February 9.
The repatriation flight also landed at RAF Brize Norton. Ninety-five foreign nationals who were also on board were flown home from the base.
Government sources say all of the Brits evacuated from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak began, have been forced to sign contracts agreeing to spend 14 days in quarantine.
It comes after a ninth UK case was confirmed yesterday evening – the first instance of coronavirus in London.
The patient, who is now being treated at a specialist NHS centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ in the capital, got the virus in China.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said officials are working to identify recent contacts she had.
The case could trigger panic in the capital, with public health officials frantically hunting down anyone the infected woman may have been in contact with.
This is the coronavirus super-spreader Steve Walsh, who inadvertently infected 11 people with the disease on a ski break in the Alps, left St Thomas’ Hospital in London today
MailOnline has found at least nine sites in Brighton linked to the city’s super spreader or his infected doctor friend including two schools, two health centres and a care home as the area’s residents accused public health chiefs of starving them of information
Dr Catriona Saynor (pictured left) works as a locum at County Oak Medical Centre in Brighton, which was shut down this week Steve Walsh, a gas salesman from Hove, was this week revealed to have unknowingly been the source of six out of the UK’s eight coronavirus infections – he and Dr Saynor had been on a family holiday together in France
The Britons infected with coronavirus – and the patients ill in the UK
Cases in the UK and where they are being cared for:
Newcastle: Two Chinese nationals who came to the UK with coronavirus and fell ill while on the tourist trail in York. They were the first two cases on British soil and confirmed on January 31. They are being treated at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.
Steve Walsh: The first British coronavirus victim became known as a super-spreader. He picked up the virus in Singapore – but flew for a ski break in France afterwards where he appears to have infected at least 11 people. He was whisked to St Thomas’ Hospital in London from Brighton for treatment on February 6 – but was released on February 12 after recovering.
Dr Catriona Saynor, who went on the holiday with Mr Walsh along with her husband Bob and their three children, is thought to be the fourth patient in the UK diagnosed with coronavirus. Her husband and nine-year-old son were also diagnosed but remained in France. She was taken to a hospital in London on February 9 from Brighton, thought to be the Royal Free in Camden.
Four more people in Brighton were diagnosed over the weekend and confirmed as cases. They were all ‘known contacts’ of the super-spreader and are thought to have stayed in the same French resort. One is known to be an A&E doctor and is believed to have worked at Worthing Hospital. They are all being treated in London.
London: The first case of the killer coronavirus has been confirmed in London, bringing the total cases in the UK to nine. The latest woman was diagnosed on February 12 and was whisked off to St Thomas’ Hospital. She is thought to have flown into the UK from China a few days ago, with officials confirming she caught the virus in China.
Total in UK hospitals: Nine patients. Six Britons and three Chinese nationals
British expats and holidaymakers outside the UK and where they are being cared for:
Majorca: A British father-of-two who stayed in the ski resort tested positive after returning to his home in Majorca. His wife and children are not ill.
France: Five people who were in the chalet with the super-spreader. These include the chalet’s owner, environmental consultant Bob Saynor, 48, and his nine-year-old son. They are all in a French hospital with three unnamed others.
Japan: A British man on board a cruise ship docked at a port in Japan tested positive for coronavirus, Princess Cruises said. Alan Steele, from Wolverhampton, posted on Facebook that he had been diagnosed with the virus. Steele said he was not showing any symptoms but was being taken to hospital. He was on his honeymoon.
Close and sustained contact means those who has been within two metres of the confirmed clinical case for 15 minutes.
Dr Robin Thompson, of the University of Oxford, warned the London Underground could be a hotbed for the spread of coronavirus.
He said: ‘In general, if an initial case is in a densely populated area, then the risk of sustained person-to-person transmission following is higher.
‘This is exacerbated by the fact that London is a transport hub, and the underground could provide a network to spread the virus quickly.
‘As a result, given this case was in London, it might be expected that there is an increased risk posed by this case compared to the others we have seen.’
The evacuated group’s release comes a day after ‘super-spreader’ Steve Walsh, 53, was given the all-clear and discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital.
Mr Walsh accidentally infected 11 people in a French ski chalet after picking up the deadly disease at a Singapore business conference last month.
The father-of-two and scout leader was reunited with his wife and two children in East Sussex, who were also in self-quarantine.
Dr Catriona Greenwood, who went on the holiday with Mr Walsh along with her husband Bob and their three children, is thought to be the fourth patient in the UK.
None of the other seven coronavirus patients in the UK have been named. It is only known that three are Chinese nationals, and one of the Brits was an A&E doctor.
An eight-month-old boy with pre-existing health problems is feared to be the youngest Briton with coronavirus.
The baby has ‘all the symptoms’ associated with the virus and his terrified family say they are living ‘in hell’ because his four-year-old sister may also have been exposed.
The unnamed child, who has pre-existing haemophilia and a lung condition, was examined by one of two Brighton GPs who tested positive for coronavirus.
The family, including the boy’s mother, were taken to Worthing A&E by paramedics in full hazmat suits yesterday for tests, with results expected tomorrow.
In other developments, another 44 people have tested positive for coronavirus on board a quarantined cruise ship in Japan.
The dozens of new cases bring the total on board the Diamond Princess to 218, in addition to a quarantine officer who tested positive yesterday.
The remaining 3,500 passengers and crew are confined to their cabins with questions mounting about whether the quarantine is working.
David and Sally Abel, from Northamptonshire, are among 2,500 passengers who have been stuck on the Diamond Princess off the Japanese coast since February 3
The Diamond Princess is anchored off the port of Yokohama on February 9
Revelers take part in the ‘Banda de Ipanema’ street party in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, last Saturday. Thousands have started attending the popular street parties ahead of the world’s famous carnival festival that begins on February 21
Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori (right) said there is no prospect of a cancellation
EIGHT-MONTH-OLD BOY WITH HEALTH PROBLEMS FEARED TO BE YOUNGEST BRIT WITH CORONAVIRUS
An eight-month-old boy with pre-existing health problems is feared to be the youngest Briton with coronavirus after being treated by one of Brighton’s infected GPs as the first case in London was also confirmed today.
The baby has ‘all the symptoms’ associated with the virus and his terrified family say they are living ‘in hell’ because his four-year-old sister may also have been exposed, his father has said.
The unnamed child, who has pre-existing haemophilia and a lung condition, was examined by one of two Brighton GPs who tested positive for coronavirus after treating dozens of people in the city last week and is ‘self-isolated’ at home.
The family, including the boy’s mother, were taken to Worthing A&E by paramedics in full hazmat suits yesterday for tests, with results expected on Friday.
The eight-month-old boy’s father told The Daily Telegraph his son has ‘all the symptoms’, adding: ‘We’re in hell.’
He said: ‘My little boy has haemophilia and a lung condition, so he’s already poorly. My ex-partner took him in to get checked out last Tuesday. We took him back yesterday morning, and as we arrived home at about 1pm we got a call from Worthing A&E.
‘They said both my son and his mum had been in direct contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus, and told us to stay at home.’
Japan said today that elderly passengers could be moved off the ship if they test negative for the virus and quarantined in government housing instead.
David and Sally Abel, from Northamptonshire, are among the passengers stuck on the Diamond Princess.
The pair told Good Morning Britain couples are being split up if one of them tests positive for the virus.
And fears the Rio Carnival could bring the first cases of the deadly coronavirus to South America have today been raised.
A million tourists descend on the Brazilian city from around the world each year for the carnival.
Officials in Rio de Janeiro are preparing for an outbreak by freeing up 120 hospital beds and training health workers how to spot symptoms of the virus.
Cancelling or postponing the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is not being considered despite the coronavirus outbreak, organisers have said.
A number of sporting events have moved after the outbreak which has killed more than 1,350 people and infected ten of thousands more in China.
The Chinese Grand Prix, due to take place in April, has been postponed, while athletics, golf and football have also been impacted.
But Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori said the Games would open as planned on July 24.
Speaking at a press conference in Tokyo, he said: ‘I want to again state clearly that cancellation or postponement of the Tokyo Games has not been considered.’
It was also revealed today that Manchester United have banned new signing Odion Ighalo from the club’s training ground due to fears over coronavirus.
Odion Ighalo has been training away from Manchester United’s base due to coronavirus fears
The graphic above shows the timeline of the Westerdam’s attempts to dock in various countries
MS Westerdam cruise ship is seen near a port in Sihanoukville, where it has been granted permission to dock following nearly two weeks at sea after being turned away by five countries over fears that someone aboard may have the coronavirus
The striker, on loan from Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenua is being made to train away from the AON Complex at Carrington while he is in the 14-day incubation period, according to the Mirror.
And MS Westerdam, the cruise liner stranded at sea for two weeks over coronavirus fears, has finally been allowed to dock in Cambodia.
Its 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members had been turned away by Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, Guam and the Philippines.
China’s Communist Party has replaced the party heads in the coronavirus-stricken province of Hubei and its capital Wuhan, state media said today.
The news comes as the number of confirmed patients in the nation jumped more than seven times yesterday. A similar spike was seen in deaths.
The central government has set up a special cabinet task force under Premier Li Keqiang to handle the crisis.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE DEADLY CORONAVIRUS IN CHINA?
Someone who is infected with the coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.
At least 1,369 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 60,360 have been infected in at least 28 countries and regions. But experts predict the true number of people with the disease could be 100,000, or even as high as 350,000 in Wuhan alone, as they warn it may kill as many as two in 100 cases. Here’s what we know so far:
What is the coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.
The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.
Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.
The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.
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, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.
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 7,000.
Just a week after that, there had been more than 800 confirmed cases and those same scientists estimated that some 4,000 – possibly 9,700 – were infected in Wuhan alone. By that point, 26 people had died.
By January 27, more than 2,800 people were confirmed to have been infected, 81 had died, and estimates of the total number of cases ranged from 100,000 to 350,000 in Wuhan alone.
By January 29, the number of deaths had risen to 132 and cases were in excess of 6,000.
By February 5, there were more than 24,000 cases and 492 deaths.
By February 11, this had risen to more than 43,000 cases and 1,000 deaths.
A change in the way cases are confirmed on February 13 – doctors decided to start using lung scans as a formal diagnosis, as well as laboratory tests – caused a spike in the number of cases, to more than 60,000 and to 1,369 deaths.
Where does the virus come from?
According to scientists, the virus has almost certainly come from bats. 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 COVID-19 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 were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat.
A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent similar to a coronavirus they found in bats.
However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.
Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.
‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’
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 in January, 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 one 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?
The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.
It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky.
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 COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.
If and when they do become ill, 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, 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 1,369 people out of a total of at least 60,367 officially confirmed cases – a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to 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 and therefore the death rate considerably lower. 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 were only 444 there to that date. If cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the virus may be far less dangerous than currently believed, but also far more widespread.
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 COVID-19 virus 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 work, 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 is an epidemic, which is when a disease takes hold of one community such as a country or region.
Although it has spread to dozens of countries, the outbreak is not yet classed as a pandemic, which is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.
The head of WHO’s global infectious hazard preparedness, Dr Sylvie Briand, said: ‘Currently we are not in a pandemic. We are at the phase where it is an epidemic with multiple foci, and we try to extinguish the transmission in each of these foci,’ the Guardian reported.
She said that most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.
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