A healthcare worker at a Hertfordshire cancer clinic is one of the 13 latest coronavirus cases in the UK, it emerged this morning.
The number of people infected with the deadly virus jumped from 23 to 36 on Sunday, marking the biggest rise in a single day after 12 new cases were recorded in England and Scotland announced its first patient.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted the outbreak poses a ‘significant challenge’ and will chair an emergency Cobra meeting in Whitehall this morning to thrash out a ‘battle plan’ to tackle the virus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has refused to rule out imposing Wuhan-style lockdowns on cities, banning large gatherings and shutting down public transport if the situation continues to get worse.
This morning it emerged that one of the latest cases of the disease to be identified in England over the weekend was at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Northwood – sparking fears for the safety of hundreds of vulnerable patients at the NHS treatment centre.
Elderly people and patients with chronic conditions or weakened immune systems are most at risk of suffering serious complications caused by the highly contagious virus.
But today a spokesperson for the facility said all individuals who were in contact with the clinician ‘had been identified’ and ‘the appropriate measures taken’. They added: ‘The risk to patients and staff at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre is very low and we are working with individual patients to appropriately manage their care.’
The Hertfordshire health care worker caught coronavirus overseas but there have so far been five cases contracted in Britain after a patient in Surrey created a family cluster, spreading the virus to a family member in the county as well as another person in West Sussex.
It comes as a secondary school in London became the third school in as many days to close its doors for deep cleaning after a teacher was diagnosed with the virus. In a letter to parents, Wimbledon College said it would remain shut until March 10 after one of its staff members was revealed as being among the 13 new cases on Sunday.
One of the 13 new cases on Sunday was a patient from Harlow, Essex, who caught the disease despite having no link to an affected area abroad. Officials admitted they were clueless as to where the patient contracted the virus amid mounting fears the infection is spreading rampantly throughout the UK.
The total has almost tripled in four days with the virus now reaching all corners of the British Isles. The five cases contracted within the UK may mean that it is already be too late to head off an epidemic. Public Health England warned this morning the UK can expect widespread infection ‘in the next few days’.
As Boris Johnson admitted the virus – which has infected almost 90,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,000 – was a ‘significant challenge’:
- Donald Trump revealed plans to screen everyone from high-risk coronavirus countries both prior to leaving the country and when arriving in the US – after America recorded its second death
- Prince Harry’s Invictus Games – a charity event for wounded armed services personnel – may be called off due to the outbreak
- Three school teachers were among the patients to be diagnosed with coronavirus in Britain over the weekend
- Public Health England warned this morning the UK can expect widespread infection ‘in the next few days’
- The Society for Acute Medicine said a major outbreak would put the NHS under ‘immense stress’ with operations cancelled
- Over-60s were told to avoid crowded areas to protect themselves from catching virus, according to The World Health Organisation
- The Louvre in Paris closed its doors and the French health minister advised against kissed greetings
Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock (left) arrives at Downing Street in central London this morning with Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, for an emergency Cobra meeting
The PM today admitted the coronavirus outbreak was going to be a challenge. He hailed frontline NHS staff as the UK’s ‘greatest asset’ in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. Pictured: Boris visits a laboratory in Public Health England’s National Infection Service on Sunday
St Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, today where a member of staff tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday. It is closed for deep cleaning until Wednesday
Pictured: Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Northwood, Hertfordshire, where one of the 13 cases of coronavirus to hit the UK over the weekend was identified
Princess Alexandria Hospital in Harlow, Essex, (pictured) was also revealed to be one of the locations where a coronavirus case has been identified over the weekend
Manchester City fans wear face masks before watching their team take on Aston Villa at Wembley. Manchester and London both confirmed cases today
A letter sent to parents with pupils at Wimbledon College (left) revealed the school would be shut until Tuesday for a deep clean after a teacher tested positive for coronavirus. Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings arrives at Downing Street this morning for an emergency Cobra meeting
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE LATEST 16 CASES IN THE UK?
The Department of Health confirmed three more cases of the coronavirus in England on Saturday, February 29.
What do we know about them?
One of them was a member of staff at St Mary’s Primary School in Tetbury in Gloucestershire. They caught the deadly infection in Italy.
Another was a women who worked at Willow Bank Infant School in Woodley, Berkshire. She also caught the virus in northern Italy.
It is believed the third case was a worker at the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Northwood, Hertfordshire. They caught the infection in Asia.
Health chiefs then confirmed 13 more cases of the deadly infection on Sunday, March 1 – including the first case in Scotland.
What do we know about them?
Health chiefs said one case was in Essex, warning they had not travelled to any country battling an outbreak – suggesting it had spread in the UK.
Three of the patients were contacts of a man in Haslemere, Surrey, who caught the virus in Britain. One is from Surrey and two are from West Sussex and are part of an ‘adult family cluster’.
Of the other eight cases in England, six were infected in Italy and two were struck down in Iran.
The DoH said the cases were scattered across London, West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Hertfordshire and Gloucestershire.
The Gloucestershire case was one of the six who became infected in Italy, and are thought to have went on the same trip as the county’s first case.
The Greater Manchester case was thought to be a man in Bury, who also caught the virus in Italy and flew home from Milan.
Two cases were in Leeds and one was in Bradford. The Leeds pair caught the virus in Iran, while the Bradford patient was infected in northern Italy.
One case was a member of staff at Wimbledon College who tested positive after travelling to Italy.
The other two cases are spread between London and Hertfordshire and will have caught the virus in Italy.
Scotland also confirmed its first case, in a patient in Tayside who caught the infection in northern Italy.
Wimbledon College has announced it will close until March 10 and undergo a deep clean after a member of staff tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday following travel to Italy.
The letter said it had been contacted about the case by Public Health England (PHE). The member of staff was last in school on February 25 and ‘has not had contact with pupils since the beginning of this half term,’ the letter said.
‘However, as some staff members are now classed as close contacts of a confirmed case of Covid-19 they are required to self-isolate as a precautionary measure for 14 days,’ the letter said.
It said the school must close due to low staff numbers and hopes to reopen on March 10.
PHE’s emeritus medical director warned this morning the UK can expect to see widespread infection of coronavirus ‘fairly soon’,
Speaking on Good Morning Britain, Paul Cosford said: ‘The extent of infection we are seeing in other countries suggests it is likely that we will see more widespread infection in the UK and that is what we have to be prepared for.
‘We should expect at times that might be quite challenging for us, it is therefore very important that we do everything we can to reduce the spread of infection.
‘At the moment, the vast majority of cases we see in the UK are still linked to countries where there is more widespread infection, either in Italy or south east Asia.
‘It is true to say there is a small number now where it is much more difficult to find that link, and that is leading us to think we may well see more widespread infection in the UK fairly soon.
‘It could happen in the next few days or it could take a little longer.’
Prince Harry’s Invictus Games – a charity event for wounded armed services personnel – may be called off due to the outbreak, which is teetering on the edge of becoming a global pandemic.
The games sees thousands of fans fly in from over 20 countries and is due to be held in The Hague, Netherlands, which recorded its first case on Thursday.
While coronavirus can be fatal – and roughly one in seven victims suffer very serious symptoms – for many the impact can be mild. This means victims could brush aside their symptoms, assuming it is a common cold.
Ministers had hoped they could contain the virus by tracking and isolating cases as soon as the victims returned from high-risk areas. But with 67 countries affected, this is becoming impossible.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted it was inevitable that coronavirus would become endemic – the medical term for a virus becoming permanently resident in a country. He insisted the Government was still trying to do all it could to contain and isolate the virus.
If that fails the next stage will be to try to delay its peak until the summer months, when pressure on the NHS should be lower.
Professor Jonathan Ball of the University of Nottingham said spread of the virus ‘marked a new chapter for the UK’.
He added: ‘This is a virus that frequently causes symptoms very similar to mild flu or a common cold, and it’s easily transmitted from person to person. This means it can easily go under the radar.
‘It has a high likelihood of becoming one of the many respiratory viruses that circulate around the globe, peaking in winter months infecting those who are susceptible.’
Mr Hancock refused to rule out the scenario of entire cities being locked down – as has been done in China – although he stressed he wanted to avoid this in order to minimise disruption.
Announcing a ‘war room battle plan’, he said ‘population-distancing measures’ may become necessary – such as banning public gatherings, cancelling football matches and closing schools.
Mr Hancock said everyone had a duty to help stop the spread of coronavirus by regularly washing their hands.
Bharat Pankhania, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, said we needed to ‘relearn’ personal hygiene practices. ‘Most of us are on autopilot when we cough and sneeze,’ he said.
‘We need to relearn good practice of carrying tissues and remember to cough or sneeze into a tissue and dispose of that promptly in a bin, and then immediately wash and dry hands.’
Dr Pankhania said the transmission of the virus within Britain was significant but that the cases so far have remained ‘sporadic and isolated’.
Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia said: ‘Although it may still be possible to prevent a community wide epidemic this is looking increasingly unlikely and we should be prepared to cope with a more widespread epidemic on our shores.
Pictured: People wearing face masks ahead of the St David’s Day Parade in Cardiff today as fears continue to sweep Britain while the coronavirus crisis unfolds
Global death toll hits 3,000 after flurry of fresh Italy cases
The global coronavirus death toll has hit 3,000 following a sudden spike in Italian cases.
Five fatalities were announced in Italy today, taking its death toll to 34 as infection continues to cripple the country’s northern regions.
Total patient numbers rose to 1,694 after the Civil Protection Agency revealed roughly 500 fresh positive tests this evening – an alarming 50 per cent climb in just 24 hours.
The outbreak is the second largest outside of mainland China and is steadily seeping across the continent, despite the infection hotbeds of Lombardy and Veneto on lock-down.
Ministers in Rome have taken drastic measures to firefight the epidemic, including scrapping public events and erecting police checkpoints around the 11 contaminated towns.
But despite the travel freeze from the virus-hit areas, where 50,000 citizens are in quarantine, cases scattered across Europe have been traced back to Italy.
Of the 13 new patients announced in the UK, seven had recently returned from Italy.
‘If the disease does become endemic – and I think it is quite possible – then we would see new cases perhaps appearing each winter for the foreseeable future.’
On Friday the first victim of a UK-to-UK transmission was identified in the commuter town of Haslemere, Surrey.
Officials have been unable to find out how he contracted the virus, but in tracking his contacts they identified three other adults – one in Surrey and two in West Sussex – who had become infected.
In a completely separate case, a patient who had been infected within Britain was identified yesterday in Essex.
Officials are trying to understand how the two different groups of cases started.
In another case, a school worker tested positive at St Mary’s Primary in Tetley, Gloucestershire, after returning from northern Italy.
Another victim was identified as an employee of Willow Bank Infant School near Reading. Further cases were reported in London, Hertfordshire, Leeds, Bradford and Bury.
The Prime Minister said: ‘The number of coronavirus cases around the world is rising every day – and the UK is no exception.
‘There now seems little doubt that it will present a significant challenge for our country. But we are well prepared, and the Government and the NHS will stop at nothing to fight this virus. Our battle plan lays out in detail the measures we could use – if and when they are needed.’
Emergency powers set to be unveiled this week to help combat the virus include suspending rules about the maximum numbers of children that a single teacher can be responsible for.
A woman wearing a face mask while waiting for a tube train at Bank underground station today as the number of confirmed cases in Britain hit 35
With 36 cases now confirmed in the UK and fears that up to 80 per cent of the population could be infected, the Prime Minister says he has no doubt that Covid-19 will be beaten. Pictured: Mr Johnson at PHE’s infection control HQ today
A woman wearing a face mask at a Burger King restaurant in London today. Twelve new cases of coronavirus were diagnosed in England today
Markets facing new battering
Markets were braced for futher falls today after a tenth was wiped off the value of Britain’s largest companies last week.
Travel agent TUI faces relegation from the FTSE100 index after its value dropped by a third in two weeks, as holidaymakers put off making bookings.
British Airways owner IAG and Easyjet have also been hit, losing just under a fifth of their value in a week.
A lockdown in London caused by a ‘significant increase’ in cases would cost the economy £500million per day, the Centre for Economics and Business Research warned.
Disruptions to supply chains have also raised concerns that UK car factories may have to close.
The temporary measures will also allow for emergency medical registrations to create a ‘Dad’s Army’ of retired doctors to back up an already under-strain NHS.
Dr Susan Crossland, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said a major outbreak would bring ‘immense stress’ to the NHS. ‘While the emergency planning measures put in place specifically for coronavirus have been good, the wider picture is one of grave concern,’ she said.
‘One of the huge problems we will see in the event of a widespread outbreak is a complete squeeze on elective surgery that will have huge implications for already dire patient waiting times and this directly relates to the under-funding of previous years.’
A Tayside resident who returned from Italy has become the first person in Scotland to be diagnosed with coronavirus, the Scottish Government said yesterday. The victim, who has not been named, has been admitted to hospital and is receiving treatment in isolation.
Scottish health officials are to begin testing some people with flu-like symptoms even if they have not visited affected areas.
In the wake of the first diagnosis in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘Our first thoughts must be with the patient diagnosed with coronavirus, I wish them a speedy recovery.
‘Scotland is well-prepared for a significant outbreak of coronavirus but there is currently no treatment or vaccine.’ Ms Sturgeon will attend the COBRA meeting in London tomorrow, chaired by the Prime Minister.
Covid-19 seems to spread much like flu, through coughs and sneezes. Once contracted, it lives and replicates in the tissues that line the airways.
Secretions from these tissues – mucus and saliva – therefore also contain the virus. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or simply talks, tiny droplets of moisture are expelled into the air, carrying the virus out of the body. Unless you are directly in the firing line, you should be safe. Droplets travel only up to 7ft.
But another risk comes when people cover their cough or sneeze with their hand and then touch something other people touch, such as a door knob or tap. Touch a contaminated surface, then touch your own mouth or nose, and the virus can be transmitted.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the coronavirus can live on surfaces for several days. Günter Kampf of the University of Greifswald in Germany says such viruses can be killed by disinfectants such as alcohol or bleach – but many things we touch every day on transport or in public buildings are not frequently disinfected.
If 14 per cent of those infected develop a severe disease and five per cent of them are critically ill, it could be a ‘massive threat’ according to Dr Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.
According to Alistair Miles, head of epidemiological informatics, Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics, people need to stop touching their faces to limit the spread.
He told The Times: ‘Stop touching your face. Especially stop touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching food.
‘While a mask seems like a good idea, there isn’t a lot of good evidence that it can reliably prevent infection when worn by the public. But they are useful to put on a sick person to reduce their spreading of the virus.’
He said: ‘It looks unlikely this will be over quickly. It may be with us into next year and might eventually become a seasonal infection, returning each winter.’
Boris Johnson will hold Cobra meeting today to finalise UK’s coronavirus ‘battle plan’ – after complaints he needed to ‘get a grip’ on the crisis
By Claire Ellicott and Jason Groves for the Daily Mail
He will lead a meeting of the Government’s emergency committee Cobra this morning for the first time as he seeks to reassure the country he has got a grip on the crisis.
The senior ministers and officials will sign off a battle plan to contain and defeat the virus, which will be published tomorrow.
A war room will now be set up in the Cabinet Office which will include NHS and communications chiefs to coordinate a response.
It came as the number of confirmed cases rose by 50 per cent to 36 yesterday.
Mr Johnson acknowledged the figure would continue to increase in the coming days, despite frantic efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
He said there ‘now seems little doubt that it will present a significant challenge’ to the UK in the coming days and weeks.
Yesterday the Prime Minister broke cover, donning a yellow biohazard suit to visit Public Health England’s laboratory in Colindale, north-west London
Mr Johnson acknowledged the figure would continue to increase in the coming days, despite frantic efforts to contain the spread of the virus
Criticism mounted last week over his decision to delegate management of the crisis to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Even ex-Tory chancellor George Osborne said the Government had to ‘get a grip’.
Yesterday the Prime Minister broke cover, donning a yellow biohazard suit to visit Public Health England’s laboratory in Colindale, north-west London.
It is one of a number of labs where tests for the virus are carried out.
He then went to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead to meet staff who are treating patients with the illness.
Speaking ahead of today’s emergency meeting, Mr Johnson said: ‘The number of coronavirus cases around the world is rising every day – and the UK is no exception.
‘There now seems little doubt that it will present a significant challenge for our country.
‘But we are well prepared, and the Government and the NHS will stop at nothing to fight this virus. This battle plan lays out in detail the measures we could use – if and when they are needed.’
Tomorrow’s proposals will set out how the Government will respond if and when the coronavirus reaches epidemic proportions.
Mr Johnson yesterday said he wanted to see schools stay open for as long as possible, and emergency laws will be published this week to allow class sizes to increase if teachers are off sick.
But tomorrow’s blueprint is likely to include provisions for school closures if the situation worsens.
Mass gatherings, such as at sports events and concerts, could also be banned temporarily and Mr Hancock said draconian measures, such as sealing off whole cities, had not been ruled out.
Privately, officials say that ministers could have to address ‘very difficult’ issues.
These could include deciding whether to allow the virus to take its course quickly or try to delay its spread. The first option would likely result in a higher peak in the number of cases, but would allow the economic and social disruption to pass more quickly.
Downing Street has insisted that Mr Johnson has remained in overall charge of the response since the virus first emerged in January. No 10 said there had been weekly Cobra meetings.
Mr Johnson yesterday said he wanted to see schools stay open for as long as possible, and emergency laws will be published this week to allow class sizes to increase if teachers are off sick
Downing Street has insisted that Mr Johnson (pictured yesterday in Colindale) has remained in overall charge of the response since the virus first emerged in January. No 10 said there had been weekly Cobra meetings
Although none was attended by the Prime Minister, he is said to have been updated regularly. Mr Johnson held a high-level meeting of ministers and officials on Friday night.
Sources said the Prime Minister had visited NHS staff who may soon be on the frontline.
He visited Kettering General Hospital in Northamptonshire last week to see its new coronavirus ‘pod’ where people can come to be checked.
Meanwhile, health chiefs in the Canary Islands have said British tourists trapped in a Tenerife hotel hit by coronavirus can leave as long as they are well and the Government can guarantee continuing care.
Hopes of an early end to their holiday hell were first raised last week when talks began with embassies and consulates about a possible repatriation.
But the Foreign Office poured cold water on the idea by insisting there were no plans to bring trapped tourists back from the H10 Costa Adeje Palace.
That left more than 100 Britons facing an end date on their lockdown of March 9.