Coronavirus: government announces new quarantine powers

Author: Mark Gould

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The UK government has announced new powers to fight the spread of coronavirus, saying it poses a "serious and imminent threat" to public health.

People can now be forcibly quarantined or sent into isolation and will not be free to leave under the new measures.

In a statement issued this morning health secretary Matt Hancock said that Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral and Kents Hill Park conference centre in Milton Keynes had been designated as “isolation” facilities in the UK while the Wuhan and Hubei province are designated as an “infected area”.

As further legal underpinning to enable further measures to contain the virus Mr Hancock also declared that the incidence or transmission of novel coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health. The BBC reports that the new measures have been announced because a patient currently held on the Wirral “is threatening to abscond” before the 14-day quarantine period is up.

A Department of Health spokesman said that the measures were part of changes to make it easier for health professionals to do their job: "We are strengthening our regulations so we can keep individuals in supported isolation for their own safety and if public health professionals consider they may be at risk of spreading the virus to other members of the public.

"This measure will rightly make it easier for health professionals to help keep people safe across the country."

Public Health England (PHE) says that the actual threat level announced last month remains "moderate”.

Meanwhile four further people in England have tested positive for novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to eight.

The chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty says the new cases are all known contacts of a previously confirmed UK case, and the virus was passed on in France.

Professor Whitty says PHE scientists 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,“ he said.

The coronavirus diagnostic test developed by PHE is being rolled out to laboratories across the UK starting today. PHE says the increase in diagnostic capacity from one laboratory in London to 12 labs over the coming weeks, will accelerate the country’s testing capabilities.

The UK was one of the first countries outside China to have assured testing capability for the novel coronavirus. At PHE’s laboratories in London, it has the capacity to process samples from more than 100 people a day.

Now, to ensure that the country is prepared for further cases and to speed up the time from a sample being taken to a result in the lab, the test will be carried out by scientists across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This increases testing capacity to more than 1,000 people a day for England.

Using the diagnostic test, scientists can look for evidence of the presence of any type of coronavirus and then hone in on specific genetic clues that identify the novel coronavirus associated with this outbreak. A confirmatory test will continue to be conducted at PHE’s Colindale laboratories.

PHE medical director Professor Yvonne Doyle, said: “Once China confirmed that they had identified a novel coronavirus, Public Health England was ready to test potential cases in this country. We have now trained scientists in labs across the UK to conduct the specialist test – ensuring that we are well prepared should we begin to see an increased number of cases across the country.

“The roll-out to other parts of the UK is the fastest deployment of a novel test to PHE and NHS labs in recent history, including in the Swine flu pandemic in 2009.

“In addition to processing samples from suspected cases in this country, PHE is now working as a reference laboratory for the World Health Organisation (WHO), testing samples from countries that do not have assured testing capabilities.”


Editorial team, Wilmington Healthcare

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