Coronavirus: Two healthcare workers in UK test positive for deadly virus as GP surgery closed

The number of British cases of coronavirus has doubled to eight – with two healthcare workers among those testing positive – while a GP surgery in Brighton was closed amid fears of the infection spreading.

Brighton’s County Oak medical centre closed on Monday with a warning notice on its door telling patients it was “closed due to operational difficulties”.

According to reports, one of those infected was a GP, who was at work for one day but did not see any patients. Workers wearing protective suits were pictured cleaning the surgery and pharmacy on Monday afternoon.

The government has since classified the virus, which has infected more than 40,000 people in China and led to the death of more than 1,000, as a “serious and imminent threat” to public health while activating emergency powers that can see it force people to remain in quarantine.

“I will do everything in my power to keep people in this country safe,” Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said in a statement. “We are taking every possible step to control the outbreak of coronavirus. NHS staff and others will now be supported with additional legal powers to keep people safe across the country.”

Public Health England confirmed the newly announced cases were “closely linked” as efforts were made to trace other people who may have been exposed to the virus, with five of them related to a so-called “super spreader” – a businessman who caught the virus on a trip to Singapore.

He travelled to a ski resort in France and then returned to the UK on an easyJet flight from Geneva to London Gatwick, with Swiss officials confirming he had passed through the transport hub on two separate flights in late January. He then visited the Grenadier pub in Hove before becoming ill. 

Public Health England’s medical director, Yvonne Doyle, said: “As a result of our contact tracing we now know the new cases announced today are all closely linked to one another. Our priority has been to speak to those who have close and sustained contact with confirmed cases, so we can advise them on what they can do to limit the spread of the virus.

(AFP via Getty)

“Two of these new cases are healthcare workers and as soon as they were identified, we advised them to self-isolate in order to keep patient contact to a minimum. We are now working urgently to identify all patients and other healthcare workers who may have come into close contact, and at this stage we believe this to be a relatively small number.”

It came as the Department of Health increased powers over those who have the virus, meaning they can be forcibly quarantined and sent to isolation. The changes are understood to have been made after one Briton who had returned from the Chinese city of Wuhan – the centre of the outbreak – threatened to leave isolation at Arrowe Park Hospital on Merseyside.  ​

Individuals who are thought to be at risk of carrying the virus have been quarantined at Kents Hill Park Conference centre in Milton Keynes and Arrowe Park NHS accommodation near Birkenhead.

A total of 1,114 tests have for coronavirus have been carried out so far – an increase of more than 300 from Sunday, when 795 tests had been completed.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust has confirmed that it is currently treating three of the eight coronavirus patients in the UK.

“As one of a small number of specialist centres in England that treat people with very infectious diseases, our experienced team are well prepared for this,” the trust said. “As the patients are being treated in isolation, there is absolutely no risk to any other patients or visitors.”

On a global scale the 2019-nCoV virus has seen over 40,000 confirmed cases in China alone, and another 319 in the rest of the world. On Monday in Hubei province alone Chinese officials announced another 103 deaths – marking the deadliest day of the virus so far and bringing the total death toll in the region to 974.

World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who confirmed 168 laboratories worldwide were now equipped to diagnose the virus, said a concerted global effort was needed “to fight this virus before it gets out of control”.

“It could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire,” he said, “But for now it is only a spark. Our objective remains containment”.

An advance team of WHO experts arrived in China on Monday to investigate the ongoing outbreak, which currently has a higher death toll than the Sars epidemic of the early 2000s.

However, for many in China the day marked a return to work as the extended lunar New Year holiday came to an end – despite research in the country suggesting the incubation period for the virus could be 10 days longer than experts had previously predicted.

As workers returned to the offices and public transport of Shanghai and Beijing, research co-authored by Dr Zhong Nanshan, who discovered the Sars coronavirus in 2003 and has been appointed as a leading advisor in managing the current coronavirus crisis, suggested the virus could be carried for 24 days from the moment of exposure.

The findings, which have not yet been peer reviewed, were the result of data extracted from 1,099 coronavirus patients across 522 hospitals in 31 provinces in China.

Responding to the study, Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “The suggestion that the incubation period may extend up to 24 days is definitely worrying, especially for people currently in quarantine who may, therefore, expect to spend longer in isolation.

“However, the median incubation period remains very short at three days. This means that half of people who get ill will have developed their illness within three days of the initial contact and the proportion of people with the really long incubation periods will be very small.

“One of the issues with particularly long incubation periods is that it is often very difficult to exclude the possibility that the person had not had a second unrelated contact.

“Nevertheless, what this new information illustrates is concerning and illustrates the need to be continuingly re-evaluating our risk assessments and advice.”

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