Government declares coronavirus a 'serious and imminent threat' to public health

The government has declared the coronavirus outbreak a 'serious and imminent threat' to public health, as the number of confirmed UK cases rose from four to eight on Monday.

Some patients with the virus are being treated at a specialist centre at Guys and St Thomas' hospital in London (Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/Getty Images)
Some patients with the virus are being treated at a specialist centre at Guys and St Thomas' hospital in London (Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/Getty Images)

Under the new measures announced by the government, people with coronavirus can now be forcibly quarantined and could be sent into isolation if they pose a threat to public health.

The DHSC said that the risk to the public has not changed and remains moderate, however the measures were 'considered as an effective means of delaying or preventing further transmission of the virus'.

In a statement the DHSC said: 'We are strengthening our regulations so that we can keep individuals in supported isolation for their own safety. This measure will rightly make it easier for health professionals to help keep people safe across the country.'

Anyone who is placed in isolation, including those who returned at the weekend on a government-chartered plane from Hubei province in China where the outbreak began, are required to remain in quarantine for 14 days.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: 'I will do everything in my power to keep people in this country safe. We are taking every possible step to control the outbreak of coronavirus.

'The transmission of coronavirus would constitute a serious threat - so I am taking action to protect the public and isolate those at risk of spreading the virus. Clinical advice has not changed about the risk to the public, which remains moderate. We are taking a belt and braces approach to all necessary precautions to ensure public safety.'

New cases of coronavirus

Meanwhile England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty announced that four further patients in England had tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to eight.

Professor Whitty said: 'The new cases are all known contacts of a previously confirmed UK case, and the virus was passed on in France.

'Experts at Public Health England continue to work hard tracing patient contacts from the UK cases. They successfully identified these individuals and ensured the appropriate support was provided.

'The patients have been transferred to specialist NHS centres at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and The Royal Free hospitals, and we are now using robust infection control measures to prevent further spread of the virus. The NHS is extremely well prepared to manage these cases and treat them, and we are working quickly to identify any further contacts these patients have had.'

Guidance for GPs

Guidance for GPs was updated at the end of last week to say that the virus is most likely to be seen in travellers returning from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, or Thailand. It had previously only mentioned mainland China.

Practices have been given advice about isolating patients and seeking specialist support, as well as information on cleaning should a patient suspected of having the virus attend the surgery.

A further update to the guidance on Friday advised practices that once a patient has been isolated they should be asked to phone NHS111 on their mobile phone if they have one.

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