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Tests for coronavirus conducted on 14 people in UK

WHO decides against declaring coronavirus an international public health emergency for the present

Ingrid Torjesen

Friday, 24 January 2020

Nine people in the UK are undergoing testing for coronavirus with their results expected today, and a further five have already been tested and found free of the infection, Public Health England has confirmed.

While these nine tests may also be negative Dr Paul Cosford, medical director of Public Health England (PHE) told Radio 4’s Today programme that it was “highly likely” that the UK would see some cases of the viral infection.

The city of Wuhan in China where the infection was first reported is in an indefinite lockdown imposed to halt spread of the coronavirus, and at 10 other cities in the Chinese central Hubei province have also been shut down.

The virus has so far killed 26 people across China and affected more than 800. Cases have been reported in the US, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Six of the UK people being tested are in Scotland and Northern Ireland, are showing red flag symptoms for coronavirus infection of respiratory trouble, and had been in Wuhan within the last 14 days.

Professor Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology, University of Nottingham, said that it was “reassuring” to see that travellers who had visited Wuhan and were now experiencing respiratory symptoms had sought medical help.

“The individuals are isolated, and the diagnostic lab will now be testing to see if they have evidence of the novel coronavirus. If they have, then they will be given appropriate medical care and the people that they have been in contact with traced and monitored to ensure that they haven’t contracted the virus too,” he said.

“It’s by using these well-established tried and tested measures that we deal with these exotic outbreaks as and when they happen. Of course, it is more likely that they are suffering the ill-effects of many of the other cold and flu-like viruses that do the rounds in winter.”

On Thursday, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) emergency committee decided against declaring coronavirus an international public health emergency after reviewing the latest evidence.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while coronavirus was clearly an emergency in China it has not yet become a global health emergency, although it may become one and the situation is being monitored closely.

On Wednesday, PHE began carrying out enhanced monitoring of direct flights from China. Passengers returning directly from Wuhan are met on arrival, checked for symptoms of coronavirus and provided with information about symptoms and what to do if they become ill. There are three direct flights a week that arrive at Heathrow from Wuhan.

A large number of Chinese students studying at British universities, and some, including University of Chester, have warned students that they will face quarantine on their return if they travel to China to celebrate Chinese new year, The Guardian reported.

Dr Cosford said that anyone returning from China who experienced respiratory symptoms should not turn up at hospital A&E or consult their GP for advice but instead contact NHS 111. He reassured people that most patients who contracted the coronavirus would probably recover as most of those who had died so far had been elderly patients with comorbid conditions.

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