Two further patients in England have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of UK cases to 15, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has announced.
One patient became infected in Italy and the other in Tenerife and both have been transferred to specialist infection centres. One patient is in the Royal Liverpool Hospital and the other at the Royal Free Hospital, London.
Further cases were expected and should not cause alarm, experts in epidemiology and health protection said.
Professor Tom Solomon, director of the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections at the University of Liverpool, said: “It is not surprising that with the increased number of cases in Europe we have new seen two more cases in UK travellers. The reassuring thing is that they have been detected so quickly and are now in isolation to prevent further spread. It shows that the measures put in by Public Health England and NHS England are continuing to be effective in protecting the wider population.”
Professor Brendan Wren, professor of microbial pathogenesis at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), said: “Given the regular transport links at this time of year between the UK and northern Italy/Tenerife these new cases are not surprising. The patients have been isolated and the hope is that their contacts will be traced promptly to prevent further spread of the virus.”
The number of cases in Italy, where there have been 12 deaths, has surged by 25% in the last 24 hours to 400. The outbreak is centred in Lombardy, the region around Milan, and Veneto near Venice.
In Tenerife the outbreak is centred at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel where an Italian tourist who has now been diagnosed with COVID-19 had stayed. The hotel is now on lockdown and its guests, including 168 Britons, are being monitored for the virus.
The incidence of onward transmission of the coronavirus outside of China is growing, both in Europe and elsewhere. Today the US today reported that a new case in California is believed to be the first case of onward transmission of the virus there.
Professor Rowland Kao, Sir Timothy O’Shea professor of veterinary epidemiology and data science, University of Edinburgh said: “It does highlight that we should continue to expect more cases without direct association with China, and therefore (despite evidence of the epidemic tailing off in China) a need for continued vigilance with appropriate control measures for some time.”
PHE have announced that they will be launching a new public information campaign that should mean the public are better equipped to understand the coronavirus outbreak and measures to avoid coronavirus. The importance of the public maintaining strict hygiene levels to prevent infections and spread will have major prominence in the campaign.