Boris Johnson is today facing mounting pressure for a dramatic escalation of the government’s coronavirus response – as ministers struggled to explain why there has yet to be a ban on big gatherings and a school shutdown.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended the UK’s limited action so far, saying it was ‘science led’ and accusing other countries of ‘populist’ measures that ‘don’t have the right impact’.
But he conceded that Britain will soon need the same tough steps, as it was only a ‘little behind’ neighbours such as France and Germany in the progress of the disease.
Fears over the impact of the coronavirus were laid bare today in a leaked Public Health England (PHE) briefing warning that a ‘worst case’ scenario could see an epidemic last until spring next year, and mean 7.9million needing hospital treatment.
France has imposed controls on its border with Germany, and transport restrictions are in force across much of Europe, with schools, pubs and restaurants closed. Austria is banning gatherings of more than five people. The US has barred all travellers from Europe.
But beyond urging those with a cough or a fever to self-isolate, the UK authorities have held off the most draconian steps, saying the timing must be right for them to be effective.
The British public appears to be taking matters into their own hands today, with commuter trains unusually empty as workers opt to stay at home. Mr Shapps said train passengers were down by a fifth last week, as airlines demanded a bailout.
Amid rising criticism, Mr Johnson is to chair another Cobra emergency meeting later, and daily press briefings will be staged to reassure the public everything possible is being done.
Ministers have appealed for major manfacturers to overhaul their factories to produce ventilators to help those who are most at risk from the illness.
Under tough new powers, people who refuse to go into quarantine face being detained or slapped with a fine of up to £1,000.
Police are able to use ‘reasonable force’ to constrain those who could infect others.
The streets were unusually quiet in Bristol this morning (pictured) as Britain reacted to the coronavirus escalation
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended growing criticism of the UK’s limited action so far, saying it was ‘science led’ and accusing other countries of ‘populist’ measures
Customers carry huge bags of toilet roll as they leave the Costco wholesalers in Manchester yesterday
No10 chief Dominic Cummings leaves home for work today (right). Left, a man in Manchester city centre appears to wear protective gear during the crisis
Chief scientific officer Patrick Vallance and
As Britons were urged to rally together to fight coronavirus:
- The PM is holding a conference call with other G7 world leaders later as they try to coordinate a response to the crisis;
- Mr Shapps said there had been an 17 per cent-20 per cent drop off in the volume of train passengers last week, as Britons reacted to the crisis;
- The FTSE dipped below the 5,000 level as the markets took fright at the enormous scale of the coronavirus threat;
- The government is appealing for manufacturers to help produce more ventilators for millions of people expected to become critically ill, but doubts have been raised about the practicalities of the idea;
- Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is meeting school leaders later discuss potential closures and exams being postponed amid the outbreak;
- Singapore has directly criticised the UK for arguing there is ‘no point containing’ coronavirus cases, saying that could mean numbers rise more rapidly;
- British Airways and EasyJet have announced ‘further significant cancellations’ as a result of travel restrictions caused by the pandemic;
- The worldwide coronavirus death toll is believed to have topped 6,500 with some 170,000 people infected;
- Labour MP Kate Osborne has become the second politician diagnosed with coronavirus, with more than a dozen more in isolation;
- Labour has downgraded its orders for MPs to attend Parliament this week amid fears that they could become ‘superpreaders’;
Pushed on the relative lack of UK action so far, Mr Shapps told Sky News: ‘The UK has probably just been at a slightly different stage – compared with places like Italy but also a little behind where France and Germany are.
‘It’s not that we’re not going to get there, but of course our responses are timed in a different way, unique to the particular stage of this that we’re in in the UK.’
Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme services would be maintained, but added there is no point running ‘ghost trains’.
Mr Shapps also played down criticism over the testing regime in the UK, saying the government is carrying out more tests than any other state apart from Italy and China.
Train passengers ‘down by a fifth last week’
Train passenger numbers slumped by a fifth last week as coronavirus panic took hold, it was revealed today.
Commuter services and streets were unusually empty this morning as the public took matters into their own hands, despite the government’s limited advice.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said there had been an 17 per cent-20 per cent drop off in the volume of train passengers last week, as Britons reacted to the
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme services would be maintained, but added there is no point running ‘ghost trains’.
‘The railways have definitely seen a big drop off … last week by about 18-20% in the number of passengers and we’re working with them closely,’ he said.
‘We are working very hard to do things including, for example, providing the ability for home testing, but just in terms of scientific technology – getting those tests available, in other words inventing tests that can be used that quickly and in that way – they are not available at this time,’ he said.
‘Having said that, the UK – I think I’m right in saying other than China and Italy – is carrying out more tests than any other country in the world, so we are ahead of the game in terms of testing.’
The Transport Secretary said people over the age of 70 will be asked to self-isolate ‘as and when the moment is right’ – but that they would still be able to go outside and ‘walk the dog’.
He said it is ‘quite likely’ that elderly people would have to self-isolate for months, but added: ‘It is the case that people will be able to go out and walk the dog. It’s about being sensible but not mixing in crowds.’
However, the UK appears increasingly out of step with other countries in terms of its response to the emergency.
Singapore foreign minister Lawrence Wong suggested Britain’s abandonment of efforts to ‘contain’ coronavirus will lead to cases rising ‘even more sharply’.
He told a press conference: ‘In the case of the UK it is rising very rapidly but it’s not just about the numbers but the fact that these countries have abandoned any attempt at containing the spread of the virus.
‘They have said so publicly, especially the UK and Switzerland, perhaps less so for Japan; but certainly in the case of the UK and Switzerland.
‘I think the UK has been most public in acknowledging that there’s no point containing and they are simply now at the phase of trying to delay the spread.
‘So if there is no deliberate effort to contain then we anticipate that the numbers of infected cases in these countries will rise even more sharply in the coming days or weeks, and that’s why we are quite concerned.’
In an unprecedented peacetime intervention yesterday, the Health Secretary said the over-70s will be told ‘within weeks’ to stay at home – for up to four months.
Hundreds of thousands of volunteers have already vowed to join forces to help those in need, including delivering shopping and medication.
Mr Johnson will address the nation over the pandemic later alongside chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
The first daily briefings will come after the PM chairs a Cobra committee meeting expected to focus on plans to shield elderly and vulnerable citizens, household isolation and mass gatherings.
No 10 announced the plans to hold televised daily briefings after Mr Johnson received criticism over an apparent lack of transparency in the fight against Covid-19.
Charities have urged the public not to ‘back away’ from the elderly and instead get in touch with neighbours using postcards or letters to see if you can help.
An online movement to place volunteers with vulnerable residents is growing at an extraordinary rate, with almost 400 ‘mutual aid’ groups being established across the UK in little over 24 hours.
Labour MP Kate Osborne is second diagnosed with coronavirus
A Labour backbencher announced she had become the second British MP to contract coronavirus today as another 15 self-isolated themselves.
Jarrow’s Kate Osborne made the announcement on Twitter as Parliament began to take steps to operate with fewer politicians present.
She follows Health Minister Nadine Dorries, 62, who is recovering at home after testing positive last week.
The Government has indicated that it wants the Commons to remain open with emergency legislation expected to be passed this week to give authorities more powers to deal with the pandemic.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020, which came into force last month, says those suspected of infection could be held for up to 14 days in a secure hospital or other suitable location.
Anybody who tries to make an escape can be taken into custody before being returned to detention or isolation, the regulations state.
Failing to comply is a criminal offence punishable with a fine of up to £1,000. Those who refuse to pay could also be imprisoned.
The regulations also state those suspected of being infected will have mandatory tests –such as giving a blood sample or having their nose and throat swabbed.
They must also give their travel history and a list of those they have recently met – and will be slapped with fines for providing false information.
The call to arms coincided with Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s extraordinary announcement that the country’s 9.2 million over-70s will be told to self-isolate ‘within the coming weeks’. The measures are likely to last for up to four months.
No 10 announced the plans to hold televised daily briefings after Mr Johnson (pictured at a press conference on Thursday) received criticism over an apparent lack of transparency in the fight against Covid-19
Coronavirus hysteria in Europe continued today on as Poland’s shut frontiers cause huge traffic jams in Germany and Ukraine – while Serbia and Slovakia went into lockdown and Portugal closed its border with Spain
The Labour MP for Jarrow, Kate Osborne, (pictured left) has been diagnosed with coronavirus. Ms Osborne is seen here with Chris Head on March 4. Mr Head started a petition on the Post Office Horizon Scandal. Before her election in 2019, Ms Osborne worked for Royal Mail
The UK death toll soared to 35 yesterday, with 14 deaths in just 24 hours. The youngest known fatality was last night named as 59-year-old former police officer Nick Matthews, from Nailsea in North Somerset.
Which MPs are self-isolating?
Kate Osborne – Jarrow
Nadia Whittome – Nottingham East
Andrea Jenkyns – Morley and Outwood
Chloe Smith – Norwich North
Alexander Stafford – Rother Valley
Olivia Blake – Sheffield Hallam
Dehenna Davison – Bishop Aukland
James Brokenshire – Hornchurch and Rainham
Lisa Cameron – East Kilbride
Alex Chalk – Cheltenham
William Wragg – Hazel Grove
Ruth Edwards – Rushcliffe
Anne-Marie Trevelyan – Berwick-upon-Tweed
Andrew Bridgen – North West Leicestershire
Charles Walker – Broxbourne
Edward Argar – Charnwood
Nadine Dorries – Mid Bedfordshire
The father-of-two was said to have underlying health issues. There are now 1,372 confirmed cases in the UK.
In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Mr Hancock said the over-70s and those with underlying health conditions will soon be asked to remain at home.
He said the move would require a ‘national effort’ and a ‘massive community response’ and urged the healthy to help elderly neighbours.
The comments sparked confusion about how the measures could be implemented and who would care for those who do not have nearby family or friends.
But they led to a huge outpouring of community support, led by the Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK Network, which is urging volunteers to form Facebook groups for their areas where people can share information on how to help those in need.
Many suggested dropping leaflets with contact details through the doors of neighbours so requests for food or medication can be made, or even just a friendly phone call.
Anna Vickerstaff, one of the movement’s co-ordinators, told the Daily Mail: ‘It has been incredible to see all of these groups spring up – and it goes to show that even in times of fear and anxiety we can come together and keep an eye out for the people in our neighbourhoods who need our help.’
With the prospect of months of further disruption, volunteers have been trying to make the lives of others easier.
Shop owner Zahid Iqbal, of Edinburgh, has distributed free coronavirus ‘survival kits’ – including a toilet roll, hand sanitiser and pocket tissues.
In Exeter, cabbies at I Taxi say they will take any over-65s trapped at home shopping for free.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said there was no reason to avoid visiting elderly relatives, but family members should keep at least a metre (3ft 3ins) apart and not offer kisses or hugs.
The youngest known fatality was last night named as 59-year-old former police officer Nick Matthews, from Nailsea in North Somerset
Many suggested dropping leaflets with contact details through the doors of neighbours so requests for food or medication can be made, or even just a friendly phone call. A man is pictured entering a coronavirus testing centre in London
She added: ‘Now is not the time to back off our older population, who need our love and support more than ever.’
Karl Wilding, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said he was heartened by the country’s ‘impulse to help out in tough times’.
Mr Wilding said people could donate to foodbanks, which may come under pressure.
‘The simplest thing everyone can do is look out for their neighbours and offer help with shopping and other errands if they can’t get out of the house,’ he added.
Britain’s coronavirus crisis could last until Spring 2021 with up to 8MILLION people – or 15% of the population – hospitalised, secret NHS briefing reveals – as death toll leaps 14 in a day to 35
by Joe Middleton and Jemma Carr for MailOnline
Britain’s coronavirus crisis could last until Spring 2021 and see 7.9million people hospitalised, a secret briefing for senior NHS figures has revealed.
The document, seen by The Guardian newspaper, shows that health chiefs expect the virus to last for another 12 months, and details how it will impact key staff in the NHS, police and fire brigade.
It says: ‘As many as 80% of the population are expected to be infected with Covid-19 in the next 12 months, and up to 15% (7.9 million people) may require hospitalisation.’
It is understood the document was drawn up in recent days by Public Health England’s preparedness and response team.
Members of the public spotted today on the tube as the deaths from the pandemic increased today
Chaos this week saw people scrabbling to load up with loo rolls, long-life milk and pasta in a bid to prepare for the worst as the coronavirus death toll hit 21 yesterday while the number of infected soared past 1,000 in the UK alone. Pictured: Bare shelves in a Morrisons store in London
Dr Susan Hopkins, Deputy Director of PHE’s National Infection Service said: ‘PHE used reasonable worse-case scenario figures, to restate the importance for people with symptoms to stay at home, including health care workers in order to reduce the spread of the virus.’
Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, and expert in epidemiology said: ‘For the public to hear that it could last for 12 months, people are going to be really upset about that and pretty worried about that’
‘A year is entirely plausible. But that figure isn’t well appreciated or understood.’
The document also discloses that an estimated 500,000 of the 5 million people deemed vital because they work ‘in essential services and critical infrastructure’ will be off sick at any one time during a month-long peak of the epidemic.
This 5 million figure includes 1 million NHS staff and 1.5 million working in social care.
Heartbroken wife Mary Matthews (left) paid tribute to her ‘life partner and soul mate’ husband Nick, 59, (right) who died from coronavirus in Bristol
It came as a total of 40,279 people have been tested across the UK and the latest update comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock this morning said that the elderly may have to self isolate for up to four months.
38,907 tested negative against the disease and 1,372 tested positive.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock this morning said that the elderly may have to self isolate for up to four months.
It comes after a heartbroken wife paid tribute to her ‘life partner and soul mate’ husband who has become the youngest coronavirus patient in Britain to die today.
Father-of-two Nick Matthews is believed to be the youngest coronavirus victim in Britain.
Mr Matthews – who had underlying health conditions – died in Bristol Royal Infirmary
The 59-year-old – who had underlying health conditions – died in Bristol Royal Infirmary in the early hours of yesterday morning.
It was today revealed that coronavirus fatalities in the UK have increased by 14 overnight bringing the total death toll to 35.
Mr Matthews’ wife Mary wrote in a tribute on Facebook yesterday: ‘Today at 3am I lost my life partner and soul mate but most of all my best friend.
‘Charlotte, Ben and I are beyond proud to have had such a big character in our lives.
‘As a family we are still currently in isolation until the coronavirus test results come back.
‘Someone will post again when we have more information.
‘In the meantime, I know some of you would like to visit but please for you and your families safety, stay away until we get the all clear.’
Mr and Mrs Matthews had recently returned from a holiday in Fuerteventura, flying out on February 22 and returning on February 29.
In his last Facebook post, Mr Matthews described celebrating his birthday on the popular tourist hotspot.
Mr Matthews’ wife Mary penned a heart-breaking tribute on Facebook yesterday after her husband’s death
It was today revealed that coronavirus fatalities in the UK have increased by 14 overnight bringing the total death toll to 35. Pictured: Bristol Royal Infirmary where Mr Matthews died
The announcement from the Department of Health and Social Care (above) stated the new numbers for today
Nailsea People reported that Mr Matthews was diagnosed with pneumonia at the Bristol Royal Infirmary and was admitted to the intensive care unit after showing other signs for coronavirus.
Mrs Matthews told Nailsea People: ‘People who may have come into contact with either Nick or me during the past two weeks need to self-isolate and get advice.
‘Although he tested positive, until a post-mortem examination, we can’t say that was cause of death at the moment.
‘I don’t want to panic people, but I do want people to take extra precautions.’
Mr Matthews retired from his work as a police officer 10 years ago after suffering a heart attack.
Many paid tribute to him on Facebook, with one describing him as a ‘true Avon and Somerset Police legend’.
The number of cases of the killer bug increased by more than 200 to 1,372, the department of health and social care announced this afternoon.
A total of 40,279 people have been tested across the UK.
Britain’s over-70s told to stay at home for four months
Mass isolating of the elderly – even if they are not ill – will begin within the next 20 days as Boris Johnson ratchets up efforts to tackle the UK’s ballooning outbreak.
This morning health secretary Matt Hancock said the virus is ‘one of the biggest challenges we have seen in a generation’.
Although the drastic measures that have been implemented by the government have been drawn up to protect those most vulnerable to the killer COVID-19 infection, it brings serious concerns about the wellbeing of pensioners cooped-up for such a long time.
Regular social outings will have to be scrapped and pangs of loneliness could compound an already stressful isolation experience, psychologists have warned.
Instructing the over-70s to remain indoors forms part of a wider package of emergency powers due to be officially rolled out by Downing Street this week.
In a statement, University Hospitals Bristol Foundation Trust said: ‘Sadly, we can confirm that a man who was being cared for at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, and had tested positive for Covid-19, has died.
‘The patient who died was in his late-fifties and had underlying health conditions.
‘The family has been informed and our thoughts are with them at this difficult time. We will not be commenting further and ask that everybody respects the family’s privacy.’
Councillor Don Davies, the leader of North Somerset Council, said the authority’s ‘heartfelt condolences’ were with the family and all that knew him.
‘I understand that the family have requested privacy at this difficult time and I ask that everyone respects their wishes,’ Cllr Davies said.
‘I am sure the news will be met with sadness in the wider community and it is important that everyone remains calm and follows the latest national advice on the steps needed to reduce the spread of infection.’
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Government is ‘well behind the curve’ in its handling of the crisis and said it should be ‘at the very least giving a daily briefing’ about what is going on.
Mr Corbyn said: ‘There has to be much clearer guidance but also much better support.’
He added: ‘When football authorities and others take responsible decisions to cancel matches because they were worried about the crowd, they did that themselves – it was not the Government.’
Shoppers are faced with partially empty shelves at a supermarket in London as consumers worry about product shortages as a result of the coronavirus
When Mr Corbyn, who is 70, was asked if he would self-isolate, he said: ‘I am doing what everybody is being asked to do, which is washing my hands frequently and also making sure that the meetings I attend have people who are separated by some distance.
‘It is all the kind of practical measures that we all need to take.’
CHARITIES URGE FAMILIES TO CHECK UP ON ELDERLY RELATIVES
Charities have advised families to check elderly relatives have everything they need after Matt Hancock said over-70s will soon be asked to stay at home for four months.
The Alzheimer’s Society has not advised against visiting elderly relatives.
But it said anyone concerned should ring their loved ones to check they have handwash and hand sanitiser, are cleaning remote controls, door handles and taps regularly, and to see whether they need anyone to do a shopping trip for them.
Independent Age has also not advised against visits, but urged family members to ensure older relatives have all the supplies they need such as food and medication.
Age UK has said elderly people feeling well can still carry on as normal, and go out and meet people, providing basic hygiene measures such as washing hands regularly are observed.
Several care homes in the UK have suspended all visits in a bid to stop the virus spreading and Independent Age has told its volunteers home visits should now be conducted over the phone.
Mr Hancock said today that people can still visit elderly family members and neighbours as long as neither party is unwell.
Mr Hancock said ministers are yet to make a decision on whether to ban gatherings of more than 500 people in the rest of the UK, after Scotland said it would bring in restrictions from Monday.
It comes as eleven new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Northern Ireland, bringing the total number of known cases there to 45.
The Department of Health said people with mild symptoms – new persistent cough and/or fever – should stay at home and self-isolate for seven days and that they will not require testing.
In Wales there were 34 new cases today, pushing its total to 94. A huge jump from 60.
Public Health Wales said it was working with partners in the Welsh Government and the wider NHS in Wales now that the country had entered the ‘delay’ phase.
The new cases, by local authority area, are: two in Blaenau Gwent, four in Caerphilly, three in Carmarthenshire, one in Ceredigion, four in Swansea, three in Cardiff, one in Monmouthshire, three in Newport, two in Rhondda Cynon Taf, two in Torfaen and one in the Vale of Glamorgan.
The residential areas of eight of the new confirmed cases were still being confirmed on Sunday.
Mark Drakeford, First Minister of Wales, issued a video message describing how the Welsh Government had been ‘working hard to prepare for what is to come’.
‘We are working around the clock with experts here in Wales and around the United Kingdom to do everything we possibly can to protect you and your families,’ he said.
‘Every decision we make is based on the best expert public health advice.
‘It’s really important in facing the coronavirus that we take the right decisions at the right time.’
Dr Giri Shankar, incident director for the Covid-19 outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said: ‘We can confirm that 34 new cases have tested positive for novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 94.
Mass isolating of the elderly – even if they are not ill – will begin within the next 20 days as Boris Johnson ratchets up efforts to tackle the UK’s outbreak
‘Public Health Wales is working within the phased approach to tackling the novel coronavirus outlined in the UK Coronavirus Action Plan – to contain, delay, research and mitigate.
Coronavirus forces Scottish school closures
A number of schools across Scotland are to close from Monday due to coronavirus outbreaks.
Dunblane High School has closed to all pupils and staff after a pupil tested positive for Covid-19.
Stirling Council said a deep clean of the school will take place immediately. All other schools in the local authority area will be open as normal.
Convener for Children and Young People, Councillor Susan McGill, said: ‘We are working closely with the school to address this situation and hope to have the establishment back open as soon as it is safe to do so.
‘We completely appreciate the uncertainty felt in the community during this unprecedented set of circumstances. Our focus is to bring you accurate, up to date information as soon as it is available.
‘In the meantime, please continue to follow the guidance from the NHS and governments, available online.’
Isobel Mair School and Nursery in Newton Mearns and Murroes Primary School in Angus have also been closed after the emergence of coronavirus cases linked to their communities.
In a statement, East Renfrewhsire Council said it had taken the decision to temporarily close Isobel Mair School on Monday ‘as a precautionary measure following the emergence of a coronavirus case linked to the school’.
It added: ‘The school is currently contacting staff and parents to inform them of the decision and of our intention to reopen the school as soon as possible.
‘The individual with coronavirus is self-isolating at home and is giving no cause for concern.’
Angus Council said Murroes Primary would be close from Monday to Wednesday ‘in order to undertake a deep clean after a suspected positive case of coronavirus (Covid-19) related to the school’.
Shetlands Islands Council previously said that some of its schools would be closed for all of next week.
Helen Budge, director of Children’s Services, said: ‘During this Covid-19 pandemic, we have taken this decision, not specifically for public health, but for operational and resilience reasons.’
‘We are working with our partners in the Welsh Government, the wider NHS in Wales, and others now that we have entered the ‘delay’ phase.
‘This is now not just an attempt to contain the disease, as far as possible, but to delay its spread.’
Dr Shankar said the advice for the public had changed, with people no longer needing to contact NHS 111 if they believe they may have contracted Covid-19.
Instead, anyone with a high temperature or a new continuous cough should stay at home for seven days and should not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.
They should only contact NHS 111 if they feel unable to cope with their symptoms at home, their condition worsens or their symptoms do not improve after seven days.
‘The move into the ‘delay’ phase, will include working closely with health boards, NHS 111 and the Welsh Government towards transitioning away from community testing and contact tracing,’ Dr Shankar said.
‘Testing will now focus on cases admitted to hospital, in line with national guidance, and based on symptoms and severity.
‘The move away from community testing gives us greater capacity to test in hospital settings, where the most vulnerable patients will be cared for.’
The announcement of the new cases came as Adam Price, the leader of Plaid Cymru, wrote to Mr Drakeford about the outbreak.
He called for Mr Drakeford to use powers available under the Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984 to prohibit or restrict the holdings of events or gatherings.
‘It is imperative that Wales uses all the powers already at its disposal in order to delay the spread of Covid-19 and we will support you in that endeavour,’ Mr Price wrote.
Mr Price said the measures would give public reassurance and mitigate against community transmission of the virus.
As of March 12, a total of 945 people in Wales had been tested for coronavirus.
On Friday, the country’s health minister, Vaughan Gething, warned that up to 25,000 people in Wales could die amid a worst-case scenario.
He announced that non-urgent surgical procedures and outpatient appointments would be suspended to help the NHS in Wales cope with the virus.
The panic surrounding the virus has continued to spread and supermarkets are struggling to keep up with demand for items such as toilet roll and hygiene products and dried foods such as pasta.
This is while various countries pledge to close their borders on Monday. Germany this afternoon said it would close its borders to Austria, France and Switzerland and non-essential public places in France were also ordered to close.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS?
What is the coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.
The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.
Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.
The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.
Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals.
‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses).
‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’
The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.
By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.
The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000.
Where does the virus come from?
According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.
The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.
Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat.
A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.
However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.
Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.
‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’
So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it?
Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.
It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.
Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.
Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.
‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’
If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die.
‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.
‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’
How does the virus spread?
The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.
It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.
Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.
What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?
Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.
If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.
In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.
Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why.
What have genetic tests revealed about the virus?
Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world.
This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.
Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.
However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.
This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.
More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.
How dangerous is the virus?
The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.
Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.
However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.
Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.
Can the virus be cured?
The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.
Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.
No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.
The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.
Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.
People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.
And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).
However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.
Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?
The outbreak was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.
Previously, the UN agency said most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.