Widespread transmission of coronavirus in UK ‘highly likely’ as PM chairs emergency Cobra meeting
Widespread transmission of coronavirus in the UK is “highly likely”, Public Health England (PHE) has warned, as the Prime Minister gathers ministers for an emergency Cobra meeting.
Professor Paul Cosford, emeritus medical director of PHE, said more cases could be challenging for the UK and urged people to take simple steps such as washing their hands to reduce the risk of infection.
Asked on BBC Breakfast if widespread infection was inevitable, he said: “I wouldn’t say it’s inevitable but it is now highly likely.”
Going on to speak on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Prof Cosford explained that “the extent of infection we are seeing in other countries suggests it is likely that we will see more widespread infection in the UK”.
He said: “We should expect at times that might be quite challenging for us, it is therefore very important that we do everything we can to reduce the spread of infection.
“At the moment, the vast majority of cases we see in the UK are still linked to countries where there is more widespread infection, either in Italy or South East Asia.
“It is true to say there is a small number now where it is much more difficult to find that link, and that is leading us to think we may well see more widespread infection in the UK fairly soon.
“It could happen in the next few days or it could take a little longer.”
Prof Cosford was also interviewed for Radio 4’s Today programme, where he said evidence showed widespread infection was looking “much more likely”.
He said most people would only suffer mild infection, and that children and healthy adults seem to be at much lower risk of serious complications.
“It’s older people and people with severe underlying conditions that we will be particularly concerned about,” he said.
Prof Cosford also warned that there could come a point “where we reduce social contact if we see more widespread transmission”.
This could involve asking “people to isolate themselves at home if there’s a member of their family who’s infected”.
He added: “We may well get to a position where we say carry on going to school, carry on going to work but if you can work from home that’s a very sensible thing to do, and think of all the different ways you can reduce your social contact outside of those activities.”
His comments come as Boris Johnson gathers ministers for a Cobra meeting to draw up a battle plan for dealing with coronavirus.
Mr Johnson was criticised by Labour for being a “part-time” Prime Minister as the UK coronavirus toll climbed to 36 cases over the weekend.
The Cobra meeting will be attended by senior ministers as well as England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is also expected to take part after a Tayside resident – who had recently travelled from Italy – was diagnosed with the virus.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Labour would support putting cities in lockdown if the medical advice showed it was necessary.
Meanwhile, the husband of a British-Iranian woman jailed in Iran said his wife is showing “all the symptoms” of coronavirus but is still yet to be tested.
Richard Ratcliffe said Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was desperately trying to get tested, but claimed the prison where she is being held is “obviously under orders” to not allow it.
Of the new UK cases reported over the weekend, three are family members of a man from Surrey who tested positive on Friday.
He is one of a handful of cases with no recent travel to affected countries, raising fears the virus is being passed on more easily in the UK.
One of the three cases linked to the man is from Surrey, while a further two are from West Sussex.
Another new patient, from Essex, had also not recently travelled to an infected area.
One other case is a person from Bury, Greater Manchester, who was infected in Italy and has now been taken to a specialist NHS infection centre.
Three cases were confirmed in West Yorkshire, including two Leeds residents – who became infected in Iran – while one is from Bradford who had been in Italy.
Two new patients are from Hertfordshire.
One patient is a clinician at the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Northwood, Middlesex, which is part of East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust.
A statement from the trust on Monday said: “All individuals who were in contact with the clinician have been identified and the appropriate measures taken.
“The risk to patients and staff at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre is very low.”
One other case is from London.
Wimbledon College announced on Monday it will close until March 10 and undergo a deep clean after a member of staff tested positive for coronavirus following travel to Italy.
Another new case other is from Gloucestershire and linked to a member of staff at St Mary’s Primary School, Tetbury, who was identified on Saturday.
Both patients became infected while in northern Italy.
Meanwhile, a staff member at Willow Bank Infant School in Reading, Berkshire, was confirmed to have tested positive on Saturday.
In Tenerife, dozens of Britons who have been confined to the Costa Adeje Palace hotel are preparing to fly home where they will self-isolate for 14 days.
On Sunday, the Department of Health and Social Care announced every department will have a ministerial lead on the virus, and a cross-Whitehall “war room” is being set up to roll out an enhanced public information campaign.
Emergency powers designed to restrict Covid-19 if it becomes endemic would only be “temporary”, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.
He confirmed that “population distancing measures”, such as banning public gatherings and cancelling football matches, could be considered by the Government, while closing schools may be “necessary”.
Globally, the number of people killed worldwide by the virus exceeds 3,000 and there have been almost 90,000 confirmed cases.
While most patients only have mild symptoms, Covid-19 appears to be much more deadly than seasonal flu.
In Italy, which has the most cases in Europe, there are 1,694 confirmed cases and 34 deaths.
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