Coronavirus: Four new UK cases among ship evacuees

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

The evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship were taken to Arrowe Park Hospital on Saturday

Four cruise ship passengers flown to Britain on Saturday have tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to 13.

They were among 30 repatriated Britons and two Irish citizens beginning a 14-day quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral.

The four UK nationals caught the virus on the Diamond Princess liner in Japan, England’s chief medical officer said.

They have now been transferred to specialist NHS infection centres.

The Department of Health said a “full infectious disease risk assessment” was done before Saturday’s repatriation flight from Japan, adding that no-one who boarded the flight had displayed any symptoms of the virus.

Any more passengers who test positive will immediately be taken into specialist NHS care, the department said.

It added that “appropriate arrangements” are in place at Arrowe Park, including strict separation of passengers from staff and from each other.

It comes as 118 UK citizens and their family members rescued from Wuhan – the centre of the virus outbreak – ended their two-week isolation in Milton Keynes on Sunday.

Last weekend, NHS England announced that all but one of the nine people being treated for the coronavirus in the UK had been discharged from hospital.

In a statement on Sunday, England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, said: “Four further patients in England have tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to 13.

“The virus was passed on in the Diamond Princess cruise ship and the patients are being transferred from Arrowe Park to specialist NHS infection centres.”

Analysis

by BBC News medical correspondent Fergus Walsh

It’s not surprising that some of those repatriated from the Diamond Princess have tested positive for the coronavirus.

They were on board a ship where the quarantine was a failure – more than one in five of the 3,700 passengers and crew have tested positive.

In the US, 18 repatriated passengers from the cruise ship subsequently tested positive for Covid-19, as did seven passengers flown back to Australia.

It would seem likely that more of those in quarantine in Arrowe Park hospital may test positive in the coming days.

But the NHS is well able to cope with such cases and can isolate and treat patients in specialist centres.

Far more concerning is the situation in Italy, Iran and South Korea, where there is human-to-human spread of the virus in the community, which could eventually lead to the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic.

Prof Keith Neal, emeritus professor of epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said the four new cases would be kept in isolation and be of no risk to the public.

Almost one-fifth of the 3,711 passengers originally on board the cruise ship, which had been held for more than two weeks in Yokohama, have been infected. Three passengers have died.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

More than 620 people on board the Diamond Princess tested positive for the virus

Arrowe Park Hospital was previously used to isolate 83 British nationals who were flown back to the UK from Wuhan on the Foreign Office’s first evacuation flight in January.

Janelle Holmes, chief executive at Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Trust reassured staff that the hospital was “running as usual”.

“When guests arrived yesterday evening, we followed clear guidance in relation to infection prevention control. This was to minimise the chance of any infection spreading.”

The evacuees had already spent two weeks in quarantine on board the cruise ship, but since then 600 passengers and crew have tested positive for the new virus, raising fears that the incubation period for the virus may be longer than originally thought.

Image copyright
PA Media

Image caption

Two of the Britons who were not on the evacuation flight, Sally and David Abel, are being treated in a Japanese hospital

Separately, four Britons from the ship who recently tested positive for the new coronavirus were not on Saturday’s repatriation flight.

They included David and Sally Abel, from Northamptonshire, who have since been diagnosed with pneumonia, according to their family and are being treated in a Japanese hospital.

Relatives said the couple are both “having a really tough time” and feel “very much in the dark” in terms of treatment, adding that they are awaiting further tests.

Italy imposes lockdown

The new strain of coronavirus, which originated last year in Hubei province in China, causes a respiratory disease called Covid-19.

China has seen more than 76,000 infections and 2,442 deaths. The virus has since spread to at least 11 other countries.

Over the weekend, Italian officials imposed strict quarantine restrictions in two northern “hotspot” regions close to Milan and Venice, as the number of coronavirus cases soared to 130 – the worst outbreak in Europe.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Italian officials have cut short the Venice Carnival as they try to control what is now the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in Europe

Venice Carnival has been cut short, schools and museums closed and sporting events suspended as authorities struggle to contain the spread of the virus.

About 50,000 people cannot enter or leave several towns in Veneto and Lombardy for the next two weeks without special permission. Three people have died.

Elsewhere, authorities in South Korea and Iran are battling to control rising numbers of infections.

South Korea has raised its coronavirus alert to the “highest level”. The UK Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to the cities of Daegu and Cheongdo.

Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan have closed their borders with Iran, where eight people are known to have died. Officials have ordered the closure of schools, universities and cultural centres in 14 provinces.

The BBC’s medical correspondent Fergus Walsh said it seems increasingly likely that the spread of the new coronavirus will become a pandemic – or global outbreak.

“The combined situation in South Korea, Iran and Italy point to the early stages of pandemic,” he said. “In each of these countries we are seeing spread of the virus with no connection to China.”