Coronavirus: More may need to self-isolate to stop spread – NHS boss

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Media captionCoronavirus in the UK: Five things you need to know about Covid-19

Many more people may be forced to self-isolate as part of efforts to stop the coronavirus spreading in Britain, the head of NHS England has warned.

Sir Simon Stevens said more than 80 people discharged from quarantine on Thursday set an “important example”.

Meanwhile, officials are tracing the contacts of the ninth person in the UK to test positive for the virus.

The woman went to hospital in an Uber, but Public Health England said the driver is not at “high risk”.

The new case – announced on Wednesday evening – is the first to be identified in London after she contracted the virus in China.

She “self-presented” at the A&E department of University Hospital Lewisham on Sunday 9 February, hospital chief executive Ben Travis said.

She arrived in an Uber, but Public Health England said the driver is “not considered high risk” because the journey was less than 15 minutes and there was not “close sustained contact”.

Uber said it had temporarily suspended the driver’s account “out of an abundance of caution”. Asked if it would be compensating the driver for lost income, the company said: “We will be providing support to this driver.”

Mr Travis said the patient was immediately given a mask and escorted to be tested in a dedicated area outside the A&E building. After that, she was assessed further in an isolation room in the emergency department.

“In line with our protocols, throughout their care, the patient was escorted and did not come into contact with other patients,” he said. She was later discharged and taken home by ambulance.

All staff who had contact with the patient have been contacted, and two are undergoing “active surveillance” at home for 14 days on the advice of Public Health England, Mr Travis said.

On Wednesday, the test came back positive and she was taken for treatment at a specialist unit at St Thomas’ Hospital that evening.

In other developments:

‘Contain, delay, research, brace’

Meanwhile, more than 80 people who stayed in accommodation at Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral for two weeks have left after testing negative for the new strain of coronavirus.

They are one of two groups of British nationals evacuated from Wuhan, with the second quarantined near Milton Keynes.

Sir Simon thanked those in quarantine for being “responsible, pragmatic and stoical” during their isolation in nurses’ rooms at Arrowe Park.

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Repatriated UK citizen Matt Raw punched the air in celebration as he left quarantine

“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,” he said.

Matt Raw, one of those quarantined on the Wirral, said as he left the accommodation block: “It is absolutely lovely to be out and I’ll no doubt be going out for a pint a little bit later.”

And an unsigned note placed onto a window at the facility read: “I was a little anxious as to how I would be received. I needn’t have been… You made us feel welcome.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock expressed his gratitude to those leaving Arrowe Park on Thursday and said people “can be reassured that their departure presents no risk to the public”.

The challenges in containing the virus

The ninth UK case illustrates the challenge the authorities face in trying to contain the coronavirus.

The guidance is clear about what to do if you suspect you might be infected.

Phone NHS 111 and self-isolate yourself.

Jumping into an Uber and heading into a busy A&E unit – where there will be lots of people with potentially weakened immune systems – is the last thing someone should be doing.

We don’t know why the ninth case did this. They could have been unaware of the advice. They may have been scared.

Or they may have had trouble getting through to 111 or have been unhappy with the response.

I have heard from people who have self-isolated themselves after becoming ill after returning from one of the at-risk countries, but then complained they were frustrated about the slow response from the NHS.

Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was hoped China “gets on top of the epidemic”.

But he said that containment and isolation remain the focus for medical teams – and that work was now under way to establish how to delay any potential outbreak in the UK.

He said: “We basically have a strategy which depends upon four tactical aims: the first one is to contain; the second of these is to delay; the third of these is to do the science and the research; and the fourth is to mitigate so we can brace the NHS.”

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Media captionChange in seasons ‘could slow down spread’ – England’s chief medical officer

Prof Whitty added: “If we are going to get an outbreak here in the UK – and this is an if not a when – then putting it back in time, into the summer period away from the winter pressures on the NHS, buying us a bit more time to understand the virus better, possibly having some seasonal advantage, is a big advantage.”

In addition to the patient being treated in London, the UK’s nine coronavirus cases include two Chinese nationals who tested positive in York.

Another cluster of cases began with British businessman Steve Walsh – now recovered – who contracted the virus in Singapore and passed it to 11 people at a ski resort in France. Five of these returned to the UK.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus and what can help stop its spread?

The main signs of infection are fever (high temperature) and a cough as well as shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

Frequent hand washing with soap or gel, avoiding close contact with people who are ill and not touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, can help cut the risk of infection.

Catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue, binning it and washing your hands can minimise the risk of spreading disease.

Anyone experiencing symptoms, even if mild, after travelling from mainland China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau, is advised to stay indoors and call the NHS 111 phone service.

Read more about the coronavirus

SHOULD WE WORRY? Our health correspondent explains

YOUR QUESTIONS: Can you get it more than once?

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Do masks really help?

UNDERSTANDING THE SPREAD: A visual guide to the outbreak


ECONOMIC IMPACT: Why much of ‘the world’s factory’ remains closed

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