Coronavirus advice updated on patients returning from Italy and other affected countries

Coronavirus guidance has been updated to reflect concerns about patients travelling from areas with growing outbreaks of infection, including northern Italy, Iran and the Republic of Korea.

COVID-19 travel warning expanded (Photo: Greg Bajor/Getty Images)
COVID-19 travel warning expanded (Photo: Greg Bajor/Getty Images)

The update comes with around a dozen towns in northern Italy in lockdown as authorities scramble to prevent further spread of COVID-19 - the name given to the disease by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The virus behind COVID-19 has been named SARS-CoV-2.

More than 200 cases have been identified in Italy, with seven deaths to date. The UK now has 13 confirmed cases after four patients evacuated from a cruise ship were found to be infected.

With the outbreak in Italy growing in recent days, GPs had been warning that the failure to include Italy on a list of countries 'with implications for returning travellers or visitors arriving in the UK' made it difficult for practices to decide how to handle patients presenting in their practices with cold or flu symptoms.

Following an update to guidance on 25 February, four areas are now on Public Health England's 'category 1' list for concern over COVID-19. Wuhan City and Hubei Province in China; Iran; Daegu and Cheongdo in the Republic of Korea; and Italian towns under containment measures are now in this category - meaning patients returning from these areas should 'immediately self-isolate even if asymptomatic and call NHS 111.

A total of 14 areas or countries are on the 'category 2' list - meaning patients returning from these locations should self-isolate if they develop symptoms and call NHS 111. The list covers China, Hong Kong, Cambodia, northern Italy, Japan, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

A practice in Ilford, Essex, was reported to be the latest closed down temporarily for cleaning after a suspected COVID-19 case over the weekend. GPonline reported last week that at least 17 practices had been forced to close temporarily over coronavirus fears in recent weeks.

GPs have been advised to wear surgical masks and other protective equipment if contact with a suspected coronavirus case is unavoidable in the latest guidance for primary care.

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