Britons evacuated from the centre of the coronavirus outbreak in China began their 14-day quarantine in Merseyside as the first UK cases were confirmed.
The convoy transporting the 83 UK nationals and 27 other passengers from Wuhan arrived at Arrowe Park Hospital, on the Wirral, shortly after 7.15pm on Friday.
They will spend the next two weeks being monitored by medical staff while living at an NHS staff accommodation block. Several of the patients could be seen inside wearing masks as they walked upstairs to their rooms.
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They will be provided with food, laundry facilities and access to the internet, as well as games consoles and toys for children, during their stay. All agreed to spending 14 days in quarantine and families will be able to stay together, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.
Ben Williams, who was on board the evacuation flight, told the BBC he had been on his honeymoon after getting married in China.
He said he had been forced to leave behind his wife, a Chinese national, because they had not had time to arrange for her to come. “Hopefully it’s only a few months,” he said. “It’s good to be back, but I also miss China as well.”
The evacuees had landed at Brize Norton RAF base in Oxfordshire four hours after the first cases of coronavirus in the UK were confirmed.
Public Health England said two members of the same family had fallen ill at the Staycity apartment-hotel in York on Wednesday. They are being treated at the specialist Airborne High Consequences Infectious Disease Centre (HCID), part of Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Health officials are urgently trying to trace anyone who came into contact with the two patients.
Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the National Infection Service at PHE, said: “Public Health England is contacting people who had close contact with the confirmed cases. Close contacts will be given health advice about symptoms and emergency contact details to use if they become unwell in the 14 days after contact with the confirmed cases.”
The PHE definition of close contact is being within two metres of the infected person for 15 minutes.
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Many other countries, including Australia, South Korea, Singapore and New Zealand are also planning to quarantine evacuees for two weeks to prevent the virus spreading.
The US declared a public health emergency as it banned entry to foreign nationals who have visited China recently. It has also placed 195 evacuees from Wuhan in quarantine.
On Friday, Chinese health officials said 11,791 cases had been confirmed, with 259 deaths. More than 102,000 people are under medical observation.
The virus has spread to another 23 countries worldwide, with more than 100 confirmed cases outside China. However, while the number of coronavirus cases has now surpassed that of the SARS epidemic in 2002-3, death rates are much lower.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak an international emergency on Thursday and said the move would help it bolster the defences of nations with weak health services.
The WHO also warned against imposing harsh travel restrictions – something national governments appear to have ignored.