Health worker at Hertfordshire cancer clinic is among 13 new coronavirus cases in UK

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Health worker at Hertfordshire cancer clinic is among 13 new coronavirus cases in UK

Fears for scores of cancer patients at an NHS hospital in Hertfordshire were sparked today after a clinician was revealed to be one of the 13 latest c

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Fears for scores of cancer patients at an NHS hospital in Hertfordshire were sparked today after a clinician was revealed to be one of the 13 latest coronavirus cases in the UK.

More than a dozen patients at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Northwood are being tested for the killer virus and at least 10 staff members have been forced to self-isolate while they wait to hear if they are infected, MailOnline understands. 

The clinician is believed to have contracted the illness on holiday in Italy – which is suffering the biggest outbreak of coronavirus in Europe – before flying back to the UK last week and returning to work. 

Elderly people and those with chronic conditions such as cancer are most at risk of suffering life-threatening complications of the highly contagious illness because of their weakened immune systems.

But NHS officials claim the risk of vulnerable patients contracting the virus was ‘very low’ because the infected health worker did not come into contact with them after falling ill – despite the fact the bug can spread before hosts show symptoms and survive on inanimate objects for hours.

It comes as a secondary school in London became the third school in as many days to close its doors after another teacher was diagnosed with the virus on Sunday. In a letter to parents, Wimbledon College said it was shutting until March 10 because multiple teachers were forced to self-isolate after coming into contact with the infected teacher, leaving it understaffed. 

St Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Gloucestershire and Willow Bank Infant School in Berkshire will also remain shut until Wednesday while they are deep cleaned after two teachers tested positive over the weekend.

Public Health England today warned widespread infection in the UK was ‘highly likely’ and could even happen ‘in the next few days’ after the number of people infected with the deadly virus jumped from 23 to 36 on Sunday. It marked the biggest rise in a single day after 12 new cases were recorded in England and Scotland announced its first patient. 

Meanwhile Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired an emergency Cobra meeting in Whitehall this morning where officials thrashed out a ‘battle plan’ to tackle the virus, which he admitted poses a ‘significant threat’.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has refused to rule out imposing Wuhan-style lockdowns on cities, banning large gatherings and shutting down public transport if the situation continues to get worse.  

The coronavirus outbreak, which is teetering on the edge of becoming a global pandemic, has so far infected almost 90,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,000.

It comes as: 

  • London stock exchange lost its early momentum and tumbled 0.7 per cent to 6,533 after the Bank of England raised investors’ hopes with a vow to take ‘all necessary steps’ to fight the virus 
  • Online supermarket Ocado is running out of stock because Britons are stockpiling items amid fears of a full-blown outbreak
  • Donald Trump revealed plans to screen everyone from high-risk coronavirus countries both prior to leaving the country and when arriving in the US – after America recorded its second death
  • Prince Harry’s Invictus Games – a charity event for wounded armed services personnel – may be called off due to the outbreak 
  • Three schools in England have been shut after three teachers were among the patients to be diagnosed over the weekend
  • Public Health England warned this morning the UK can expect widespread infection ‘in the next few days’
  • The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – the British-Iranian woman jailed in Iran – says his wife is showing ‘all the symptoms’ of the illness but is yet to be tested
  • Indonesia today became the 69th country to record cases of the killer virus, which teeters on the brink of becoming a pandemic 
  • The Society for Acute Medicine said a major outbreak would put the NHS under ‘immense stress’ with operations cancelled 
  • Over-60s were told to avoid crowded areas to protect themselves from catching virus, according to The World Health Organisation
  • The Louvre in Paris closed its doors and the French health minister advised against kissed greetings 

A healthcare worker at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Hertfordshire is one of the 13 latest coronavirus cases in the UK, it emerged this morning

Nurses take swabs through the car window of a patient who suspected they may have the coronavirus at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, today

Nurses take swabs through the car window of a patient who suspected they may have the coronavirus at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, today

Nurses take swabs through the car window of a patient who suspected they may have the coronavirus at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, today

In little over a month more than 10,000 people have been tested for coronavirus in Britain, of which 36 came back positive

In little over a month more than 10,000 people have been tested for coronavirus in Britain, of which 36 came back positive

In little over a month more than 10,000 people have been tested for coronavirus in Britain, of which 36 came back positive

The coronavirus outbreak, which is teetering on the edge of becoming a global pandemic, has so far infected almost 90,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,000

The coronavirus outbreak, which is teetering on the edge of becoming a global pandemic, has so far infected almost 90,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,000

The coronavirus outbreak, which is teetering on the edge of becoming a global pandemic, has so far infected almost 90,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,000

The Hertfordshire health care worker caught coronavirus overseas but there have so far been five cases contracted in Britain after a patient in Surrey created a family cluster, spreading the virus to a family member in the county as well as another person in West Sussex. 

A spokesperson for Mount Vernon said all individuals who were in contact with the clinician ‘had been identified’ and ‘the appropriate measures taken’. They added: ‘The risk to patients and staff at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre is very low and we are working with individual patients to appropriately manage their care.’  

Panic spreads across Surrey commuter town after family was given coronavirus by unknown ‘super-spreader’

Anxiety in an exclusive Surrey market town at the centre of Britain’s coronavirus crisis is heightening today as health officials still hunt for the mystery ‘super-spreader’ whose infection has been passed to at least four people in the stockbroker belt.

Haslemere, an affluent commuter community of 10,000 people nestled in the Surrey Hills, is at the epicentre of a major outbreak that has seen its GP surgery and pub closed and children sent home from the local school.

Sunday shoppers in the town’s upmarket Waitrose were seen wearing face masks and today a staff member told MailOnline that more than 30 people had called in asking to buy germ-killing hand sanitiser this morning. At the town’s nearby Lloyd’s Pharmacy they have sold put of hand gel and the shelf has been filled with packs of tissues

Homemade posters have also appeared in the town declaring: ‘Haslemere, twinned with Wuhan’ with one resident admitting on the town’s community Facebook page: ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t – but if I don’t laugh i’ll cry’.

But there is also growing anger and upset among Haslemere residents about the lack of information from Public Health England about who is ill – with one concerned resident saying in an online blast: ‘Just name the person – and those who’ve been in contact can come forward. Easy!’. Another critic who fears her daughter could have been in contact with a coronavirus patient said: ‘I do believe they should clarify the person in question’.

It came as the number of UK coronavirus exploded from 13 on Friday to 36 by the end of yesterday and Public Health England warned the country will see ‘more widespread transmission’ of the deadly illness including increasing numbers of ‘quite challenging cases’.

Swathes of Britain including cities and towns could also be put on lockdown to try to stop the spread, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has admtted, while Boris Johnson has vowed to take charge of the Government response after being accused of acting like a ‘part-time Prime Minister’ while cases spiralled upwards.

There were 13 new cases yesterday alone and there are fears for scores of cancer patients with compromised immune systems after a clinician at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Northwood tested positive – forcing at least 10 colleagues into self-isolation, MailOnline understands.

In an ironic twist, Haslemere was chosen just two years ago as the setting for a BBC documentary titled ‘Contagion!’ looking at how a flu outbreak might spread across Britain.

Scientists monitored the movements of hundreds of ‘infected’ locals to work out how they might be able to stop a pandemic – and the war gaming exercise found it spread to 43 million people across the UK and led to the deaths of 900,000.

And now they town is at the centre of a genuine outbreak. The town’s upmarket Waitrose store saw shoppers wearing masks over the weekend and witness Natalie Newman told SurreyLive: ‘I was surprised. I am just telling the kids: ‘Make sure you sanitise your hands’.’ 

One of the 13 new cases on Sunday was a patient from Harlow, Essex, who caught the disease despite having no link to an affected area abroad. Officials admitted they were clueless as to where the patient contracted the virus amid mounting fears the infection is spreading rampantly throughout the UK. 

The total has almost tripled in four days with the virus now reaching all corners of the British Isles. The five cases contracted within the UK may mean that it is already be too late to head off an epidemic. 

Wimbledon College has announced it will close until March 10 and undergo a deep clean after a member of staff tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday following travel to Italy.

The letter said it had been contacted about the case by Public Health England (PHE). The member of staff was last in school on February 25 and ‘has not had contact with pupils since the beginning of this half term,’ the letter said.

‘However, as some staff members are now classed as close contacts of a confirmed case of Covid-19 they are required to self-isolate as a precautionary measure for 14 days,’ the letter said.

It said the school must close due to low staff numbers and hopes to reopen on March 10.

Education bosses are drawing up plans to cope if coronavirus disrupts GCSE and A-level exams.

Guidance from Ofqual, the exams regulator, says schools and exam boards they must have emergency contingency plans in place.

The plans could see healthy students having to take the tests in different venues and sick pupils sitting them on a different date.  

PHE’s emeritus medical director warned this morning the UK can expect to see widespread infection of coronavirus ‘fairly soon’, 

Speaking on Good Morning Britain, Paul Cosford said: ‘The extent of infection we are seeing in other countries suggests it is likely that we will see more widespread infection in the UK and that is what we have to be prepared for.

‘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.’

Prince Harry’s Invictus Games – a charity event for wounded armed services personnel – may be called off due to the outbreak, which is teetering on the edge of becoming a global pandemic.

The games sees thousands of fans fly in from over 20 countries and is due to be held in The Hague, Netherlands, which recorded its first case on Thursday.

While coronavirus can be fatal – and roughly one in seven victims suffer very serious symptoms – for many the impact can be mild. This means victims could brush aside their symptoms, assuming it is a common cold.

Ministers had hoped they could contain the virus by tracking and isolating cases as soon as the victims returned from high-risk areas. But with 67 countries affected, this is becoming impossible. 

Haslemere is at the centre of the latest coronavirus outbreak in Britain - but some have teased that the affluent town should be 'twinned with Wuhan'

Haslemere is at the centre of the latest coronavirus outbreak in Britain - but some have teased that the affluent town should be 'twinned with Wuhan'

Haslemere is at the centre of the latest coronavirus outbreak in Britain – but some have teased that the affluent town should be ‘twinned with Wuhan’

Haslemere Health Centre in Surrey (pictured) is at the centre of the town's coronavirus outbreak where four people have fallen ill but the source of the infection remains unknown

Haslemere Health Centre in Surrey (pictured) is at the centre of the town's coronavirus outbreak where four people have fallen ill but the source of the infection remains unknown

Haslemere Health Centre in Surrey (pictured) is at the centre of the town’s coronavirus outbreak where four people have fallen ill but the source of the infection remains unknown

Shoppers in the Haslemere Waitrose have been wearing face masks as four people linked to the town fell ill

Shoppers in the Haslemere Waitrose have been wearing face masks as four people linked to the town fell ill

Shoppers in the Haslemere Waitrose have been wearing face masks as four people linked to the town fell ill

London stock exchange loses early momentum and is now DOWN 0.7 per cent

The London stock exchange has lost its early momentum and is now down 0.7 per cent to 6,533 after investors’ hopes for an early stimulus package cooled.

The FTSE 100 gained more than 2.5% to reach 6758 at opening, with oil giants BP and Royal Dutch Shell becoming the largest risers after adding 4% each.

By 12.30am, it had dropped to -0.7% after early gained lessened through the morning. The FTSE 250 is currently at 19,111, a drop of 1.13%.

Investors now expect central banks around the world to launch a coordinated effort to cut interest rates and shore up growth as part of a monetary stimulus package.

This morning, the Bank of England raised investors’ hopes by vowing to take ‘all necessary steps’ to boost the economy.

‘The Bank continues to monitor developments and is assessing its potential impacts on the global and UK economies and financial systems,’ a spokesman said.

The Bank is working closely with HM Treasury and the FCA – as well as our international partners – to ensure all necessary steps are taken to protect financial and monetary stability.’

Investor attention in Britain will also turn to fresh Brexit negotiations, starting today, that aim to hammer out a trade deal by the end of the year to govern everything from aviation to fisheries and student exchanges.

It comes after British firms had more than £250billion wiped off their value last week amid the fallout from coronavirus.

Anxiety in an exclusive Surrey market town at the centre of Britain’s coronavirus crisis is heightening today as health officials still hunt for the mystery ‘super-spreader’ whose infection has been passed to at least four people in the stockbroker belt. 

Haslemere, an affluent commuter community of 10,000 people nestled in the Surrey Hills, is at the epicentre of a major outbreak that has seen its GP surgery and pub closed with Sunday shoppers in its Waitrose seen wearing face masks.

Homemade posters have also appeared in the town declaring: ‘Haslemere, twinned with Wuhan’ with one resident admitting on the town’s community Facebook page: ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t – but if I don’t laugh i’ll cry’.

But there is also growing anger and upset among locals about the lack of information from Public Health England about who is ill – with one concerned resident saying in an online blast: ‘Just name the person – and those who’ve been in contact can come forward. Easy!’. Another critic who fears her daughter could have been in contact with a coronavirus patient said: ‘I do believe they should clarify the person in question’.

The town’s upmarket Waitrose store saw shoppers wearing masks over the weekend and witness Natalie Newman told SurreyLive: ‘I was surprised. I am just telling the kids: “Make sure you sanitise your hands”.’

In an ironic twist, Haslemere was chosen just two years ago as the setting for a BBC documentary titled ‘Contagion!’ looking at how a flu outbreak might spread across Britain.

Scientists monitored the movements of hundreds of ‘infected’ locals to work out how they might be able to stop a pandemic – and the war gaming exercise found it spread to 43 million people across the UK and led to the deaths of 900,000.

The town’s first confirmed case is believed to be a patient at Haslemere Health Centre who become Britain’s first person to become infected inside the UK without travelling abroad to a hotspot such as Italy, Iran or China. They are known to have created a ‘family cluster’ of three more people who have tested positive – one in Surrey and two in neighbouring West Sussex.

There are also fears that staff including a GP were also infected – after local MP Jeremy Hunt sent best wishes to the doctor suffering with symptoms – but 72 hours on PHE has not confirmed if the rumour is genuine. 

One local said today: ‘I phoned the health centre today as recently have been talking to friends that have been speaking to the staff there I was told it was definitely a doctor and his wife. 

Wimbledon College has shut for more than a week after a teacher tested positive for the virus. It became the third school in three days to shut for a deep clean

Wimbledon College has shut for more than a week after a teacher tested positive for the virus. It became the third school in three days to shut for a deep clean

Wimbledon College has shut for more than a week after a teacher tested positive for the virus. It became the third school in three days to shut for a deep clean

In a letter to parents, Wimbledon College said it was shutting until March 10 because multiple teachers were forced to self-isolate after coming into contact with the infected teacher, leaving it understaffed

In a letter to parents, Wimbledon College said it was shutting until March 10 because multiple teachers were forced to self-isolate after coming into contact with the infected teacher, leaving it understaffed

In a letter to parents, Wimbledon College said it was shutting until March 10 because multiple teachers were forced to self-isolate after coming into contact with the infected teacher, leaving it understaffed

St Mary's Church of England Primary School in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, today where a member of staff tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday. It is closed for deep cleaning until Wednesday

St Mary's Church of England Primary School in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, today where a member of staff tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday. It is closed for deep cleaning until Wednesday

St Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, today where a member of staff tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday. It is closed for deep cleaning until Wednesday

The PM today admitted the coronavirus outbreak was going to be a challenge. He hailed frontline NHS staff as the UK's 'greatest asset' in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.  Pictured: Boris visits a laboratory in Public Health England's National Infection Service on Sunday

The PM today admitted the coronavirus outbreak was going to be a challenge. He hailed frontline NHS staff as the UK's 'greatest asset' in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.  Pictured: Boris visits a laboratory in Public Health England's National Infection Service on Sunday

The PM today admitted the coronavirus outbreak was going to be a challenge. He hailed frontline NHS staff as the UK’s ‘greatest asset’ in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.  Pictured: Boris visits a laboratory in Public Health England’s National Infection Service on Sunday

Boris Johnson vows he will ‘stop at nothing’ to combat Coronavirus as the PM finally takes charge of response to chair Cobra emergency committee 

Boris Johnson today vowed to ‘stop at nothing’ to combat Coronavirus as he chairs an emergency Cobra meeting on the mounting crisis.

The PM is finally taking personal charge of the response to the threat, after the number of people infected in the UK climbed to 36 over the weekend.

Mr Johnson will warn ministers that Covid-19 will present a ‘significant challenge’ to the country as he finalises a new ‘battle plan’ by the Government.

Scotland declared its first case, while 12 new patients were diagnosed in England on Sunday, when the Health Secretary admitted it was ‘inevitable’ coronavirus would continue to spread.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has refused to rule out following China’s lead in shutting down cities if the Covid-19 outbreak escalates.

Meanwhile, Trade Secretary Liz Truss suggested the government plans to appoint a single minister to coordinate the UK action. 

Mr Johnson, who has faced criticism for waiting until Monday to chair a meeting on the deadly virus, is due to lay out contingency plans which could include banning public gatherings.

‘The number of coronavirus cases around the world is rising every day – and the UK is no exception,’ he is set to tell the meeting.

‘There now seems little doubt that it will present a significant challenge for our country.

‘But we are well prepared, and the Government and the NHS will stop at nothing to fight this virus.’

It will be attended by senior ministers as well as chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, as they ratify the Government’s proposed countermeasures.

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.

‘I was told by another it wasn’t a doctor, so I got them to clarify and she said they can categorically say it’s none of the GPs that work there and have been tested, as my daughter came into contact with the said doctor’s wifen and I have been stressed all weekend because of there unprofessional behaviour but I do believe they should clarify the person in question’.

England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, revealed three ‘close contacts’ of the confirmed patient, believed to be his family, had also contracted coronavirus.

But Prof Whitty added it is not clear if the patient contracted the virus ‘directly or indirectly’ from somebody who had recently returned from a foreign trip.

Surrey’s so-called ‘patient zero’ remains untraced and may not even be aware at being a carrier if his or her symptoms were mild.

In Haslemere the health surgery has now reopened after being shut down for a deep clean.

But a mile away the Prince of Wales pub as a ‘precautionary measure’ after a drinker tested positive. The landlord said no staff had any symptoms.

Haslemere’s Camelsdale Primary School has told parents that family linked to the school will be in self-quarantine until Friday after spending time with one of the town’s confirmed cases last month.

But headtacher Sarah Palmer said the school, which has 215 pupils aged four to 11, would remain open after heeding the Health Secretary’s warning to UK schools to stay open.

Yesterday, rumours swirled around the wealthy town – where house prices cost on average of £500,000 – that the original spreader may be a commuter.

With trains taking just 52 minutes to London Waterloo, Haslemere is a convenient location for city workers and has one of the highest percentages of first-class rail season ticket holders in the UK.

Not all appeared worried about the outbreak – with several joking online they were more concerned about the ‘avocado and brioche shortages’ in local supermakets.

Others on community groups teased that Haslemere Health Centre – which was opened again after a ‘deep clean’ – suddenly had ‘loads of availability’.

However, many older residents who are most at threat spoke of their concern over the potential outbreak in the town.

Francis Lipscomb, 85, said: ‘Where does it all end? My wife, my daughter and my son decided we wouldn’t go out. I rang 111 and they couldn’t really tell me anything. 

Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock

Dominic Cummings

Dominic Cummings

Health Secretary Matt Hancock and No10 strategy chief Dominic Cummings were in Downing Street for the Cobra meeting this morning  

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove was also in Downing Street today for the meeting

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove was also in Downing Street today for the meeting

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove was also in Downing Street today for the meeting

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE LATEST 16 CASES IN THE UK? 

The Department of Health confirmed three more cases of the coronavirus in England on Saturday, February 29. 

What do we know about them? 

One of them was a member of staff at St Mary’s Primary School in Tetbury in Gloucestershire. They caught the deadly infection in Italy. 

Another was a women who worked at Willow Bank Infant School in Woodley, Berkshire. She also caught the virus in northern Italy.

It is believed the third case was a worker at the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Northwood, Hertfordshire. They caught the infection in Asia.

—————————————————- 

Health chiefs then confirmed 13 more cases of the deadly infection on Sunday, March 1 – including the first case in Scotland.

What do we know about them?

Health chiefs said one case was in Essex, warning they had not travelled to any country battling an outbreak – suggesting it had spread in the UK.

Three of the patients were contacts of a man in Haslemere, Surrey, who caught the virus in Britain. One is from Surrey and two are from West Sussex and are part of an ‘adult family cluster’.

Of the other eight cases in England, six were infected in Italy and two were struck down in Iran. 

The DoH said the cases were scattered across London, West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Hertfordshire and Gloucestershire.

The Gloucestershire case was one of the six who became infected in Italy, and are thought to have went on the same trip as the county’s first case.

The Greater Manchester case was thought to be a man in Bury, who also caught the virus in Italy and flew home from Milan. 

Two cases were in Leeds and one was in Bradford. The Leeds pair caught the virus in Iran, while the Bradford patient was infected in northern Italy.

One case was a member of staff at Wimbledon College who tested positive after travelling to Italy. 

The other two cases are spread between London and Hertfordshire and will have caught the virus in Italy.

Scotland also confirmed its first case, in a patient in Tayside who caught the infection in northern Italy. 

‘I’m at risk if I were to catch it, and so is my wife because she’s the same age as me.’ James Ham, 74, said: ‘I didn’t even know anything until I got to the health centre and read the sign on the door. My wife couldn’t collect the prescription as she has really bad asthma, so I’ve come to pick it up.

‘I don’t think young people have much to worry about, but elderly people like me are vulnerable.’

Dennis Smart, an 85-year-old local man, said: ‘On Friday morning I came and rattled on the door [of the health centre] but I found it was closed.

‘I phoned up and they said it is closed, if you need anything urgent go to A&E in Guildford or phone the NHS on 111. It would have been useful if they had told me the pharmacy was open.

‘It is strange because about two weeks ago my wife came here and there was a sign on the door saying: ‘Coronavirus. Keep out’. My wife saw the notice so she turned around and walked away. I spoke to the staff about it when I visited yesterday and they had had no idea it was there.

‘It appeared to be a prankster. I do not know who it was. Someone’s got a warped sense of humour’.

Mr Smart was one of many visitors on Saturday who successfully collected their prescriptions unperturbed by the news of the coronavirus.

One local woman said: ‘My husband was telling me, ‘don’t go there, there is coronavirus’, but the health centre has been deep cleaned. It is probably the safest place in the country.’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted it was inevitable that coronavirus would become endemic – the medical term for a virus becoming permanently resident in a country. He insisted the Government was still trying to do all it could to contain and isolate the virus.

If that fails the next stage will be to try to delay its peak until the summer months, when pressure on the NHS should be lower.

Professor Jonathan Ball of the University of Nottingham said spread of the virus ‘marked a new chapter for the UK’.

He added: ‘This is a virus that frequently causes symptoms very similar to mild flu or a common cold, and it’s easily transmitted from person to person. This means it can easily go under the radar.

‘It has a high likelihood of becoming one of the many respiratory viruses that circulate around the globe, peaking in winter months infecting those who are susceptible.’

Mr Hancock refused to rule out the scenario of entire cities being locked down – as has been done in China – although he stressed he wanted to avoid this in order to minimise disruption. 

Coronavirus explained: What are the chances I will die? How do I avoid it? Is it all a big fuss over nothing? World experts answer your questions 

How do you catch this virus?

Covid-19 seems to spread much like flu, through coughs and sneezes. Once contracted, it lives and replicates in the tissues that line the airways. Secretions from these tissues – mucus and saliva – therefore also contain the virus. 

When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or simply talks, tiny droplets of moisture are expelled into the air, carrying the virus out of the body. Unless you are directly in the firing line, you should be safe. Droplets travel only up to 7ft.

But another risk comes when people cover their cough or sneeze with their hand and then touch something other people touch, such as a door knob or tap. Touch a contaminated surface, then touch your own mouth or nose, and the virus can be transmitted.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the coronavirus can live on surfaces for several days. 

Could I die if I get it?

It depends to some extent on how old you are. Covid-19 barely even causes symptoms in children, even babies, and in China is not known to have caused any deaths in under-tens. 

The main concern with children is that if they catch the virus they may pass it on to older at-risk individuals. This is why some headteachers have chosen to close schools, but this is not yet official policy.

According to the most recent data from the China Centre for Disease Control, death rates are 0.2 to 0.4 per cent between the ages of ten and 50, but then start climbing.

You have a 1.3 per cent chance of dying from it in your 50s, a 3.6 per cent risk in your 60s, an eight per cent risk in your 70s, and a 14.8 per cent risk in your 80s.

Risk climbs with age because older people more often have other diseases, such as cancer or conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or pulmonary disease, which worsen Covid-19. 

I have a horrible cold – could it be coronavirus?

Symptoms of Covid-19 are not like those of a cold: it causes a fever, a cough and trouble breathing, not a runny nose or congestion. Most cases appear to be mild.

If it’s mild, could I have the virus and not know it?

The short answer is yes. Although at present only those who have been in contact with people known to be infected or who have been to a high-risk area (a full list of these locations comes later) should ask about being tested.  

It takes from two to 14 days after being infected by the virus to show symptoms – the average is five days. Chinese scientists say 80 per cent of all cases are quite mild. Some victims have barely any symptoms at all, so if you get sick you might not realise it’s Covid-19.

Worryingly, it seems to be possible for people to spread it before they start showing symptoms – or even if they never do. Scientists at the Guangdong Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in China found one Covid-19 patient who showed no symptoms but had as much virus in his nose as people who had symptoms.  

Should I wear a mask in public?

No. Studies show they do not really protect you from being infected. Some think it makes you touch your face less, but others report it makes you do it more.

The only reason to wear a mask in public is if you think you are infected – to protect others.

I think I’ve been exposed, but I feel fine. What should I do?

Do not go to a clinic or the doctor’s without calling first. If you have the virus, you could infect more vulnerable people.

The current official advice is this: if you have visited Hubei province in China in the past 14 days, or Iran, northern Italy and the Daegu and Cheongdo areas of South Korea since February 19, call NHS 111 – even if you do not have symptoms.

You may well be asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

How do I isolate myself?

Public Health England says stay home for 14 days.

It means not going to work or school – employers and school heads should be informed.

Do not go to public areas such as parks or shops and public transport or use taxis. Avoid having visitors, and ask friends, family or delivery services to get the shopping – and put it down outside, where you can pick it up.

Is it safe to travel at all right now?

If you’re going somewhere with the same or lower levels of the virus than the UK, there seems little reason not to. In airports, rail terminals or other places where people with the virus may have been, take the precautions mentioned above. Don’t go close to places that have large or suspected outbreaks – this virus can spread fast. Check gov.uk for the latest travel advice.

Dr Carmen Dolea, head of International Health Regulations Secretariat, World Health Organisation, told The Times: ‘Aircraft cabins are absolutely not dangerous and travellers do not need to cancel their plans unless visiting restricted.’ 

Announcing a ‘war room battle plan’, he said ‘population-distancing measures’ may become necessary – such as banning public gatherings, cancelling football matches and closing schools.

Mr Hancock said everyone had a duty to help stop the spread of coronavirus by regularly washing their hands.

Bharat Pankhania, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, said we needed to ‘relearn’ personal hygiene practices. ‘Most of us are on autopilot when we cough and sneeze,’ he said.

‘We need to relearn good practice of carrying tissues and remember to cough or sneeze into a tissue and dispose of that promptly in a bin, and then immediately wash and dry hands.’

Dr Pankhania said the transmission of the virus within Britain was significant but that the cases so far have remained ‘sporadic and isolated’.

Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia said: ‘Although it may still be possible to prevent a community wide epidemic this is looking increasingly unlikely and we should be prepared to cope with a more widespread epidemic on our shores.

‘If the disease does become endemic – and I think it is quite possible – then we would see new cases perhaps appearing each winter for the foreseeable future.’

It comes after news the London stock exchange lost its early momentum after opening 2.5 per cent up as investors hoped for a stimulus package to fight the panic over coronavirus.

The FTSE 100 gained more than 2.5 per cent to reach 6758 at opening, with oil giants BP and Royal Dutch Shell becoming the largest risers after adding 4% each.

By 10.30am, it had dropped to 1.2 per cent (6,663) after early gained lessened through morning. The FTSE 250 is currently at 19,389, an increase of 0.30 per cent.

Investors now expect central banks around the world to launch a coordinated effort to cut interest rates and shore up growth as part of a monetary stimulus package.

This morning, the Bank of England raised investors’ hopes by vowing to take ‘all necessary steps’ to boost the economy.

‘The Bank continues to monitor developments and is assessing its potential impacts on the global and UK economies and financial systems,’ a spokesman said.

The Bank is working closely with HM Treasury and the FCA – as well as our international partners – to ensure all necessary steps are taken to protect financial and monetary stability.’

Elsewhere, Indonesia today became the latest country to be struck by the coronavirus after a mother and her daughter tested positive for the deadly infection. 

The country’s president confirmed both Indonesian citizens caught the virus from an infected Japanese friend on the outskirts of the capital of Jakarta.

Almost 70 countries or territories around the world have now recorded coronavirus cases, including more than two dozen in the past week.  

The crisis began in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December. Almost 90,000 patients worldwide have now been struck down, and 3,000 have died.

Iran today announced a huge spike in cases, saying at least 1,500 patients have been struck down across the country.

And the European Union’s disease control agency increased its risk level for the virus from moderate to high amid mounting fears on the continent. 

The 64-year-old woman and her 31-year-old daughter got infected after coming into contact with a female Japanese friend.

President Joko Widodo said the woman, who lived in Malaysia and was a friend of the family, tested positive after her trip to Indonesia. 

It is unclear where they caught the infection. The two Indonesian woman are the first known cases in the country.

Widodo added that both Indonesian patients – who were taken to Jakarta’s Sulianti Saroso hospital from their home in Depok – were ‘in a sick state’. 

Indonesian authorities are now desperately tracing anyone who may have come into contact with the Japanese woman or the two new cases.

The daughter and the Japanese woman had gone dancing at a venue in Jakarta on February 14, the health ministry said. 

The Japanese national had informed the daughter on February 28 that she had been infected. It is unclear when she went home. 

Two other people sharing the house with the infected Indonesians had not shown symptoms of coronavirus.

Jakarta’s governor Anies Baswedan said he had set up a response team to help deal with the situation in the capital.

He said: ‘We need to move quickly to anticipate this, because Jakarta is the gateway to Indonesia.’

Indonesia’s first cases come after leading scientists warned it was ‘very unlikely’ the island nation had not yet been struck by the coronavirus.  

Almost 100,000 people flew directly into the island nation from the city of Wuhan in November and December, according to figures.

This made it the sixth most frequently travelled route out of the city, which is the centre of the epidemic. 

It comes after Iran was accused of failing to clamp down on coronavirus contamination after alarming videos of worshippers licking a shrine emerged online.

Coronavirus fears have also hit Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, with people wearing masks as they walk through the city

Coronavirus fears have also hit Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, with people wearing masks as they walk through the city

Coronavirus fears have also hit Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, with people wearing masks as they walk through the city

Three women wear face masks as they walk through Banda Aceh, a city on the Indonesian island of Sumatra

Three women wear face masks as they walk through Banda Aceh, a city on the Indonesian island of Sumatra

Three women wear face masks as they walk through Banda Aceh, a city on the Indonesian island of Sumatra

Global death toll hits 3,000 after flurry of fresh Italy cases 

The global coronavirus death toll has hit 3,000 following a sudden spike in Italian cases.  

Five fatalities were announced in Italy today, taking its death toll to 34 as infection continues to cripple the country’s northern regions.

Total patient numbers rose to 1,694 after the Civil Protection Agency revealed roughly 500 fresh positive tests this evening – an alarming 50 per cent climb in just 24 hours.

The outbreak is the second largest outside of mainland China and is steadily seeping across the continent, despite the infection hotbeds of Lombardy and Veneto on lock-down.   

Ministers in Rome have taken drastic measures to firefight the epidemic, including scrapping public events and erecting police checkpoints around the 11 contaminated towns.

But despite the travel freeze from the virus-hit areas, where 50,000 citizens are in quarantine, cases scattered across Europe have been traced back to Italy. 

Of the 13 new patients announced in the UK, seven had recently returned from Italy. 

Clips shared on social media show people licking the doors and burial mound inside the Fatima Masumeh shrine in Qom, defying token advice by the health ministry.

Worshippers in the videos brazenly state they ‘don’t care what happens’, even if they catch or spread the infection which has killed at least 54 in the country.

Iran’s hardline clerical establishment has refused to shut down Qom despite the holy city suffering the brunt of the outbreak and pilgrims spreading the virus across the Middle East.

The country is battling medical shortages which are worsened by U.S. sanctions, with masks and testing kits in short supply.

There are also fears that Iran is covering up the true scale of the crisis, with official figures showing a suspiciously high death rate – suggesting there may be far more infections than the regime is willing to admit.

One person who kisses the shrine in the holy Shi’ite Muslem city demands people ‘stop scaring people [about] coronavirus. A child is even hailed for licking the doors.

Journalist Masih Alinejad, who tweeted the worrying clips, said that by keeping the religious sites open, the regime was ‘endangering the lives of Iranians and the world’.

Iran has the second highest death toll outside mainland China, and ministers in Tehran have stepped up efforts to prevent the spread, which has infected at least 978 people.

Every day trucks filled with disinfectants spray down streets, shrines, public parks, trash bins, public toilets and markets in Qom, Tehran and other areas that have had cases of infection. State TV showed workers wiping down metro and bus stations.

Worshippers in the videos brazenly state they 'don't care what happens'

Worshippers in the videos brazenly state they 'don't care what happens'

A child is even hailed for licking the doors

A child is even hailed for licking the doors

Worshippers in the videos brazenly state they ‘don’t care what happens’, (left) even if they catch or spread the infection which has killed at least 54 in the country. A child is even hailed for licking the doors (right)

Clips on social media have shown people licking the doors and the burial mound inside the Masumeh shrine

Clips on social media have shown people licking the doors and the burial mound inside the Masumeh shrine

Clips on social media have shown people licking the doors and the burial mound inside the Masumeh shrine

On Friday the first victim of a UK-to-UK transmission was identified in the commuter town of Haslemere, Surrey.

Officials have been unable to find out how he contracted the virus, but in tracking his contacts they identified three other adults – one in Surrey and two in West Sussex – who had become infected. 

In a completely separate case, a patient who had been infected within Britain was identified yesterday in Essex.

Officials are trying to understand how the two different groups of cases started.

In another case, a school worker tested positive at St Mary’s Primary in Tetley, Gloucestershire, after returning from northern Italy.

Another victim was identified as an employee of Willow Bank Infant School near Reading. Further cases were reported in London, Hertfordshire, Leeds, Bradford and Bury.

The Prime Minister said: ‘The number of coronavirus cases around the world is rising every day – and the UK is no exception.

‘There now seems little doubt that it will present a significant challenge for our country. But we are well prepared, and the Government and the NHS will stop at nothing to fight this virus. Our battle plan lays out in detail the measures we could use – if and when they are needed.’

Emergency powers set to be unveiled this week to help combat the virus include suspending rules about the maximum numbers of children that a single teacher can be responsible for.  

The temporary measures will also allow for emergency medical registrations to create a ‘Dad’s Army’ of retired doctors to back up an already under-strain NHS.

Dr Susan Crossland, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said a major outbreak would bring ‘immense stress’ to the NHS. ‘While the emergency planning measures put in place specifically for coronavirus have been good, the wider picture is one of grave concern,’ she said.

‘One of the huge problems we will see in the event of a widespread outbreak is a complete squeeze on elective surgery that will have huge implications for already dire patient waiting times and this directly relates to the under-funding of previous years.’

A Tayside resident who returned from Italy has become the first person in Scotland to be diagnosed with coronavirus, the Scottish Government said yesterday. The victim, who has not been named, has been admitted to hospital and is receiving treatment in isolation.

Scottish health officials are to begin testing some people with flu-like symptoms even if they have not visited affected areas. 

In the wake of the first diagnosis in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘Our first thoughts must be with the patient diagnosed with coronavirus, I wish them a speedy recovery.

‘Scotland is well-prepared for a significant outbreak of coronavirus but there is currently no treatment or vaccine.’ Ms Sturgeon will attend the COBRA meeting in London tomorrow, chaired by the Prime Minister. 

Covid-19 seems to spread much like flu, through coughs and sneezes. Once contracted, it lives and replicates in the tissues that line the airways. 

Secretions from these tissues – mucus and saliva – therefore also contain the virus. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or simply talks, tiny droplets of moisture are expelled into the air, carrying the virus out of the body. Unless you are directly in the firing line, you should be safe. Droplets travel only up to 7ft.

But another risk comes when people cover their cough or sneeze with their hand and then touch something other people touch, such as a door knob or tap. Touch a contaminated surface, then touch your own mouth or nose, and the virus can be transmitted.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the coronavirus can live on surfaces for several days. Günter Kampf of the University of Greifswald in Germany says such viruses can be killed by disinfectants such as alcohol or bleach – but many things we touch every day on transport or in public buildings are not frequently disinfected.

If 14 per cent of those infected develop a severe disease and five per cent of them are critically ill, it could be a ‘massive threat’ according to Dr Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.

According to Alistair Miles, head of epidemiological informatics, Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics, people need to stop touching their faces to limit the spread.

He told The Times: ‘Stop touching your face. Especially stop touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching food.

‘While a mask seems like a good idea, there isn’t a lot of good evidence that it can reliably prevent infection when worn by the public. But they are useful to put on a sick person to reduce their spreading of the virus.’

He said: ‘It looks unlikely this will be over quickly. It may be with us into next year and might eventually become a seasonal infection, returning each winter.’

The physical steps you can take to protect yourself from catching coronavirus 

Avoiding an infection with the virus, which causes a disease called COVID-19, may be as simple as sticking to usual good hygiene, according to scientists.

Washing hands thoroughly and regularly with warm water and soap or hand sanitiser – at least five times a day – is the best thing people can do to stop themselves becoming ill.

Touching surfaces in public places – like doorknobs, handrails on public transport, lift buttons or taps or toilet handles – could be one of the main ways the disease spreads.

More detailed advice recommends people stop touching their faces, wear gloves, air out their cars and homes, and avoid hand-shaking, hugging or kissing.

Coronavirus ‘more likely to spread on the hands than in the air’ 

Experts say the most common way the coronavirus is thought to spread is by people touching surfaces which have been contaminated by an infected patient.

This works by somebody who has got the disease coughing or sneezing onto their hand, then touching a surface while they have the viruses on their hands.

The viruses then survive on that surface – such as a doorknob or a handrail on a train – and are picked up by the next person who touches it, who then touches their face and transfers the virus into their mouth, nose or eyes.

Günter Kampf of the University of Greifswald in Germany said disinfectants can kill the viruses but many things we touch every day on transport or in public buildings are not frequently disinfected. 

The World Health Organization’s advice is for people to wash their hands at least five times a day with soap and water or hand sanitiser. Friction, experts say, is the key to scrubbing off any signs of infection.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week said in a BBC interview: ‘The most valuable thing we can all do to prevent the spread of coronavirus is to wash our hands for 20 seconds or more with hot water and soap.’

The virus can live on hard surfaces which are touched by a lot of people for hours at a time, scientists say, with one study suggesting it could last for up to nine days.

For this reason, things like door knobs and lift buttons should be considered a danger zone, as well as handrails on buses or trains.

Professor Wang Lin Fa, an infectious disease expert at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, told Straits Times: ‘You have to be very unlucky to get it from the droplets in the air; it means that the person coughed directly at your face, or very near you, or if an infected person coughed in the lift about 30 seconds before you went in.

Beware doorknobs, lift buttons and handrails 

‘The lifts and the public toilets, these are the places where I would be very, very careful about touching any surfaces to not risk a coronavirus infection.’

He said that a lift was a particularly high risk place because everybody is trapped breathing the same air and having to press the same buttons. 

One tip he saw on social media suggested pushing lift buttons with a pen rather than a finger.

According to Alistair Miles, an Oxford University researcher, everyone should stop touching their faces.

He said in a tweet: ‘Stop touching your face. Especially stop touching your eyes, nose or mouth. This is much much harder than it sounds, and takes practice.

‘But if you start practising now, you will quickly get a lot better at it.’

Science writer Laurie Garrett, who travelled around China during the SARS outbreak in 2002/03, said her top piece of advice is to wear gloves in public.

Keep them on when using public transport or spending time in public spaces, she wrote in Foreign Policy, and when opening or closing doors.

She said: ‘If it’s possible to open and close doors using your elbows or shoulders, do so. Wear gloves to turn a doorknob — or wash your hands after touching it. 

‘If anybody in your home takes sick, wash your doorknobs regularly. 

‘Similarly, be cautious with stairway banisters, desktops, cell phones, toys, laptops — any objects that are hand-held.’ 

Ms Garrett also recommends not sharing towels and opening windows at home, where possible, to ventilate the house. 

This can also be done in cars, where people are in ‘close contact’, as defined by Public Health England – within two metres of someone for 15 minutes or more.

World Health Organization (WHO) advice centres around good hand-washing.

People should clean their hands after coughing or sneezing; when looking after ill people; before, during and after preparing food or eating; after going to the toilet; after handling animals and whenever they look dirty.

‘Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses,’ the WHO said in its official advice. 

‘Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.’

Catch coughs and sneezes and stay away from sick people

People should also cough or sneeze into a tissue, which they should bin immediately afterwards, and avoid spitting in public. 

If they don’t have a tissue at hand, sneezing or coughing into the crease of the elbow is better than doing it onto hands. 

And stand at least a metre away from anyone who coughs or sneezes, the WHO says.

‘When someone coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus,’ it says. 

‘If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease.’

Avoid hugs and hand-shakes

Keeping people apart is one of the main ways governments can attempt to stop the spread of the virus – what officials call ‘social distancing measures’.

In Italy, France and Switzerland, for example, public gatherings of large groups of people have been cancelled or banned.

And the French government has urged people to avoid ‘la bise’ – the traditional greeting of kissing someone on either cheek – and not to shake hands.

Health minister Olivier Veran said: ‘The reduction in social contacts of a physical nature is advised. That includes the practice of the bise,’ Bloomberg reported. 

Face masks are not virus-proof 

Face masks, although people have been pictured wearing them all over the world since the outbreak began, are probably not any good at protecting people from catching COVID-19.

University of Reading scientist, Dr Simon Clarke, said individual viruses are so small they could pass through the filters on most masks people would buy from shops.

Researchers tend to agree with this, but do say anyone who is already infected could reduce their risk of passing the virus on by wearing a mask.

They may be able to block droplets carrying the virus from being coughed out into the air around them.  

The virus infects someone by taking hold in flesh inside their airways and lungs after it is breathed in. Because of this, mucous and saliva contain the viruses and are infectious.   

When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or simply talks, tiny droplets of moisture are expelled into the air, carrying the virus out of the body up to approximately seven feet (2.1m).  

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS?

Someone who is infected with the coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.

More than 3,000 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and almost 90,000 have been infected. Here’s what we know so far:

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.

Just a week after that, there had been more than 800 confirmed cases and those same scientists estimated that some 4,000 – possibly 9,700 – were infected in Wuhan alone. By that point, 26 people had died. 

By January 27, more than 2,800 people were confirmed to have been infected, 81 had died, and estimates of the total number of cases ranged from 100,000 to 350,000 in Wuhan alone.

By January 29, the number of deaths had risen to 132 and cases were in excess of 6,000.  

By February 5, there were more than 24,000 cases and 492 deaths.

By February 11, this had risen to more than 43,000 cases and 1,000 deaths. 

A change in the way cases are confirmed on February 13 – doctors decided to start using lung scans as a formal diagnosis, as well as laboratory tests – caused a spike in the number of cases, to more than 60,000 and to 1,369 deaths.

By February 25, around 80,000 people had been infected and some 2,700 had died. February 25 was the first day in the outbreak when fewer cases were diagnosed within China than in the rest of the world. 

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. 

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.

There is now evidence that it can spread third hand – to someone from a person who caught it from another 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 is an epidemic, which is when a disease takes hold of one community such as a country or region. 

Although it has spread to dozens of countries, the outbreak is not yet classed as a pandemic, which is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.

The head of WHO’s global infectious hazard preparedness, Dr Sylvie Briand, said: ‘Currently we are not in a pandemic. We are at the phase where it is an epidemic with multiple foci, and we try to extinguish the transmission in each of these foci,’ the Guardian reported.

She said that most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.

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