Updated 5 February, 2020
At PHE we respond to around 10,000 disease outbreaks and health emergencies every year both at home and abroad, ranging from e-coli, legionnaires and TB through to emerging threats such as the outbreak of a novel (new) coronavirus in Wuhan, China.
This is a rapidly evolving situation which we are monitoring carefully but based on the available evidence, the current risk to the UK population is low.
In this blog we’ll answer some of the questions many people have. We’ll update this blog as new information becomes available.
What is novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and should I be concerned?
A coronavirus is a type of virus. As a group, coronaviruses are common across the world.
Typical symptoms of coronavirus include fever and a cough that may progress to a severe pneumonia causing shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
Generally, coronavirus can cause more severe symptoms in people with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.
What is the current risk level to the UK?
Based on the World Health Organization’s declaration that this is a public health emergency of international concern, the UK Chief Medical Officers have raised the risk to the public from low to moderate. This permits the government to plan for all eventualities. The risk to individuals in the UK has not changed at this stage. Our advice for travellers from Wuhan remains unchanged.
As of 5 February, a total of 468 tests have been concluded, of which 466 were confirmed negative and 2 positive.
How do we decide the risk level?
Several factors are taken into account to determine the risk level including the number of cases, the speed at which new cases are being identified and other information about the virus such as how easily it spreads from person to person.
Now cases of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) have been confirmed in the UK what action will be taken?
Two patients in England, who are members of the same family, have tested positive for novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). The patients are receiving specialist NHS care, and we are using tried and tested infection control procedures to prevent further spread of the virus.
The NHS is extremely well-prepared and used to managing infections and we are already working rapidly to identify any contacts the patients had, to prevent further spread.
We have been preparing for UK cases of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and we have robust infection control measures in place to respond immediately.
Can we stop the virus coming to the UK?
No system of checks can claim to offer absolute protection because of the incubation period of the virus. Some people might only show symptoms 14 days after exposure to an infected person. Our approach to enhanced monitoring helps us ensure that travellers from Wuhan get the right information about what to do if they become unwell.
Healthcare professionals have also received advice, covering initial detection and investigation of possible cases, infection prevention and control, and clinical diagnostics so they are well prepared to assist anyone who is suspected of having Wuhan novel coronavirus.
The UK is one of the countries outside China to have an assured testing capability test for this disease. If a person is diagnosed with the virus they will be transferred to a national specialist treatment centre. High Consequence Infectious Disease (HCID) treatment centres have the facilities and specialist staff to implement robust infection control measures.
As has already been demonstrated in response to diseases like MERS, Ebola and Monkeypox, Public Health England and the NHS have robust protocols in place to manage cases of imported infections.
What measures are being taken to protect the UK?
PHE has introduced advanced monitoring at airports with direct flights from China. A team of public health experts has been established in Heathrow airport to support anyone arriving on flights from China who feels unwell. These hubs will bring in rotational teams of 7 clinicians, working in shifts, who will be on hand to support patients on arrival. This is in addition to medical staff who are already permanently in place at all UK airports and the advice issued to all UK airports for people travelling to and from China.
China has also introduced port-of-exit screening so people already exhibiting symptoms are not allowed to leave the country.
If flights resumed from Wuhan, the UK would ensure that:
- A broadcast message to passengers is made on the aircraft, to encourage travellers to report their illness;
- Early warnings of any passenger illness from the captain of the aircraft is made in transit. A response (nil or otherwise) will be requested no later than 60 minutes before the actual arrival time.
- We had an isolated area of London Heathrow Terminal 4 for the reception of the aircraft
- A General Aircraft Declaration (GAD) was made by the captain of the aircraft, prior to passenger disembarkation
- Support in accordance with current operating procedures by the PHE teams is provided to any self-declaring passenger, and if required by the NHS
Can we test people for novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and how does this work?
PHE is a world-leader in developing techniques to aid the public health investigation of infectious diseases. The UK is one of the countries outside China to have an assured testing capability test for this disease. It is a complex test which can differentiate this type of coronavirus from any other coronavirus.
What’s the current travel advice?
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Hubei Province and now advise against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China (not including Hong Kong and Macao). If you’re in China and able to leave, you should do so. The elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions may be at heightened risk.
The FCO is working to make available an option for British nationals to leave Hubei province. If you’re a British national in Hubei Province and need assistance, contact our 24/7 number +86 (0) 10 8529 6600 or the FCO in London on (+44) (0)207 008 1500.
If you have visited Wuhan or Hubei Province in the last 14 days you should stay indoors and avoid contact with others as you would with flu, and call NHS 111 informing them of your symptoms and your recent travel to the city. If you are in Northern Ireland, call 0300 200 7885.
Please follow this advice even if you do not have symptoms of the virus. If you develop a fever, difficulty breathing or a cough, you should continue to follow the advice above. Please do not leave your home until you been given advice by a clinician.
If you have travelled from elsewhere in China (but not Macao or Hong Kong) to the UK in the last 14 days and develop symptoms of cough, fever or shortness of breath, you should immediately:
- stay indoors and avoid contact with other people as you would with the flu
- call NHS 111 to inform them of your recent travel to the country
If you are in Northern Ireland, call 0300 200 7885.
What does self-isolation mean for people who don’t have symptoms?
Just like when you have the flu, individuals should remain at home and should not go to work, school or public areas. Where possible, individuals should avoid having visitors to their home but it is ok for friends, family or delivery drivers to drop off food. Individuals should not use public transport or taxis until 14 days after their return from Wuhan.
Individuals should monitor their symptoms and call NHS 111 (or your national alternative) or their GP if they develop any of the following symptoms – fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat and difficulty breathing.
Should I be doing anything to protect myself if I’m in the UK?
This is a rapidly evolving situation which we are monitoring carefully but based on the available evidence.
NHS and PHE have an established plan to respond quickly and reduce the risk to others if people contact us to say they have symptoms and have recently travelled to China.