Two people from the same family have tested positive for coronavirus in the UK, the chief medical officer for England has announced.
It is understood the patients were staying in a hotel in Yorkshire, before being taken overnight to a specialist centre in Newcastle.
At least 213 people in China have died from the virus, with almost 10,000 cases nationally.
There have been 98 cases in another 18 countries.
Prof Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England said the NHS was “extremely well-prepared for managing infections” and it was quickly trying to identify any contacts the patients had to prevent further spread.
He said the two people could not be identified because of patient confidentiality.
“We have been preparing for UK cases of novel coronavirus and we have robust infection control measures in place to respond immediately,” he added.
‘High chance of getting better’
Prof Whitty said the Newcastle hospital unit was experienced in treating people with infectious diseases and there was “a high chance people would get better”, based on current information.
“A lot of people will end up with a relatively minor disease,” he said.
The small number who go on to be more seriously ill tend to develop respiratory problems which “will be dealt with as anyone else with a respiratory disease,” Prof Whitty added.
He indicated that efforts would now be made to trace everyone in close contact with the two coronavirus cases so they could be monitored.
Ian Jones, professor of virology at the University of Reading, said the possibility of further spread was “minimal” because the cases were caught early.
Virus experts said they were not surprised to see cases in the UK, but this was no reason to panic.
“This is still primarily a Chinese emergency as 99% of cases have been in China and all deaths have been in China,” said Prof Devi Sridhar, from the University of Edinburgh.
The WHO declared the outbreak a global emergency on Thursday.
The number of coronavirus cases worldwide has now surpassed that of the Sars epidemic, which spread to more than two dozen countries in 2003.
The mortality rate for the new strain of coronavirus is currently low, at 2% – less than Sars at 10% and Ebola at 70%, the chief medical officer says.
But the death rate could yet go up if more of those in hospital die, or down if it’s discovered there are many other people with mild symptoms.
Flying Britons home
At present, 83 Britons and 27 foreign nationals are flying back to the UK from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak.
The flight is due to land at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire at 13:30 GMT.
The UK passengers will then be taken to Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral and quarantined for two weeks.
The chief medical officer said they would be isolated from the general public, but not in “solitary confinement”.
“We intend them to be housed in a way which is pleasant,” he added.
Prof Whitty said he hoped they would all be able to be released after 14 days without any symptoms at all, but those who did develop symptoms would be treated by the NHS “in a way that’s safe for them and safe for staff and the public”.
Cllr Pat Hackett, leader of Wirral Council, said: “All services in the hospital are running as usual including emergency services, outpatients and planned surgery. Staff working in the hospital will not be in contact with these UK citizens.”
Detective work now needed
This is not a surprise and is a moment the country has been preparing for.
The response now will be two-fold.
The first is to treat the patients while preventing any spread of the virus.
This is something specialist centres in the NHS have plenty of experience of – including when caring for patients that caught Ebola during the outbreak in west Africa in 2014.
The second is a massive feat of detective work to find out who these patients may have passed the virus on to.
Last night, doctors in Germany confirmed cases there had spread before people even developed symptoms.
Effective “contact tracing” is how the virus can be contained.
There is still much we do not know about these cases, but the situation in the UK is completely different to China where there are nearly 10,000 cases and the authorities are still trying to get on top of the outbreak.
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