It is 'reasonable to expect' that widespread media coverage of the coronavirus outbreak - which by 28 January was reported to have left 106 people dead and more than 4,500 infected - 'will impact on the demand for appointments in GP practices in coming weeks', according to the authors of an editorial in BJGP Open.
The authors - including two leading UK GPs - also predict rising anxiety among the UK general public, and warn that primary care professionals must be 'involved in planning and action for health emergency risk management'.
The warning over a possible rise in GP appointments comes amid evidence that practices are already facing intense demand.
In October 2019 practices delivered 30.8m appointments - the highest figure recorded for a single month. Meanwhile, the most up-to-date figures available show that in the year to November 2019, 310.5m GP appointments were delivered in general practice - up 2.7m from the total for the year to November 2018.
The BJGP Open article highlights the key role that general practice plays in response to public health emergencies, pointing out that 'strong primary care systems form the foundation of any emergency response'.
Public Health England (PHE) published interim advice last week for primary care on how to handle suspected cases of Wuhan novel coronavirus (WN-CoV) infection.
Fever, cough or chest tightness, and dyspnoea are the main symptoms reported by affected patients and PHE's primary care guidance says WN-CoV may cause mild to moderate illness as well as pneumonia or severe acute respiratory infection.
To date, of 97 tests carried out on suspected cases in the UK, all were found to be negative. If the infection does present in the UK, PHE says it is most likely to occur in travellers who have recently returned from Wuhan and advises clinicians to take an accurate travel history.
Practices have also been given advice about isolating patients and seeking specialist support.
Updated advice published this week gave practices further recommendations on cleaning premises in the event of a patient with a suspected WN-CoV infection attends.