Coronavirus: Expert warns ‘we must not be complacent’ as disease threatens humankind

Coronavirus cases have rocketed globally to the point the World Health Organisation (WHO) has now warned international actors to prepare for a pandemic. Cases in the UK have remained under control, with passengers stranded on the Diamond Princess cruise ship now returned to the country to be quarantined, but the number of infected patients has increased steadily across Europe. But while British officials have urged for calm, virologist Dr Chris Smith warned Britons not to be complacent about the “maximised risk” they face outside the home. 

Speaking to, Dr Smith said: “You have to ask yourself, ‘how do these viruses spread?’ The answer is, they spread through the air and they spread on surfaces.

“And they spread from one person who’s got it to people who haven’t got it.

“If you are really, really concerned and you don’t want to catch it, then you have to stay away from where people are.

“Going to massive gatherings of people on mass transport systems – they’re the guaranteed way to maximise your risk of catching it.”

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At the time of writing, 77,659 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in mainland China with the death toll reaching 2,663 after another 71 people died on Monday.

South Korea increased security health measures after recording the second-highest number of infected patients this week. Italy has been following suit with 229 confirmed cases and seven deaths.

Italian authorities have put as many as 50,000 people in complete lockdown in the Lodigiano area of Lombardy and in Veneto, the two epicentres of COVID-19 in Italy.

One man had been originally identified as the “superspreader” – the person inadvertently infecting a large group of people by being a carrier of coronavirus – but the source of the infection has yet to be located.

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Northern Italian regions have ordered all schools, cinemas and large venues to remain closed until March 2 to avoid large crowds congregating and increasing the risk of infection.

British tourists returning from Italy have been urged to self-isolate should they start feeling unwell, while people who travelled to the areas affected have been urged to remain in quarantine regardless of whether they develop symptoms or not.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Tuesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Yes, the official advice which will be formally updated at 8am is going to change so that those who have been to northern Italy– north of Pisa – if they have flu-like symptoms should self-isolate.

“If people have been to the affected areas that the Italian government have quarantined then they should self-isolate whether or not they have symptoms.”


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Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Saturday announced a new emergency plan which allows for adopted special powers to stop people leaving or entering the worst impacted zones.

The measures also mandate that police and armed forces “have the authority to ensure the regulations are enforced”.

WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Monday that the number of new cases in recent days in Iran, Italy and South Korea was “deeply concerning”.

He said: “For the moment we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus and we are not witnessing large scale severe disease or deaths.

“Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet.”

Much of Europe and the US are seen as being in a good position to prepare for an epidemic but some countries in Africa and North Korea which would struggle to contain such a disease.

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