In recent weeks, hospitals throughout Britain have created “isolation pods” in a bid to keep anyone tested for the virus separate from other patients, with strenuous efforts being made to track down everybody these people have come into contact with. So far in the UK, there are nine confirmed cases of the illness – believed to have originated in a seafood market in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of last year.
Eight of them have now recovered and have been discharged from hospital – but the focus now on trying to prevent the virus spreading further.
However, if the number hits treble-figures, health officials are likely to change their approach, by telling anyone suffering symptoms associated with the coronavirus – official name COVID-19 – to “self-isolate” for two weeks, potentially quarantining millions of Britons with coughs and colds in their own homes.
Senior managers have been told if the number of cases hits 100, with evidence of “sustained transmission” within the UK, the NHS could opt to stop testing patients and instead urge symptomatic people to self-isolate, The Telegraph reports.
Such an approach is in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) advice, which suggests countries need to carry out a detailed study of the first 100 cases of any pandemic.
The UK’s Pandemic Influenza Response Plan offers guidelines for the isolation and treatment for “the first few 100 cases” of new viruses so vital information can be gathered.
As of February 16, a total of 3,109 people have been tested, of whom 3,100 have so far been confirmed negative.
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Based on the advice of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) the UK’s Chief Medical Officers are advising anyone who has travelled to the UK from mainland China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau in the last fortnight and is experiencing cough or fever or shortness of breath, to stay indoors and call NHS 111, even if symptoms are mild.
If there are cases of onward transmission in this country – in other words, if it becomes spreading from patient to patient, as opposed to having been contracted in another country, the strategy will shift to “mitigation, because the NHS will be unable to cope with huge numbers of patients undergoing tests.
If large numbers fall ill, but suffer mild symptoms, admitting them to a hospital would increase the risk of the disease spreading to more vulnerable patients.
Current advice carried on the Government’s GOV.UK website states: “Based on current evidence, novel coronavirus (COVID-19) presents with flu-like symptoms including a fever, a cough, or difficulty breathing.
“The current evidence is that most cases appear to be mild.
“Those who have died in Wuhan appear to have had pre-existing health conditions.
“The UK is now one of the first countries outside China to have a prototype specific laboratory test for this new disease.
“Healthcare professionals who are contacted by a patient with symptoms following travel to Wuhan have been advised to submit samples to PHE for testing.
“Individuals should be treated in isolation.”
In China, Beijing will build a new mask factory in just six days to meet soaring demand for protective gear in the wake of the outbreak, the official Xinhua news agency today reported.
The factory, to be converted from an industrial building by China Construction First Group, will be capable of producing 250,000 masks per day.
The rapid pace is reminiscent of measures taken in the virus epicentre of Wuhan, in the central province of Hubei, where the illness was first identified, and where buildings have been converted to treat infected patients, or hospitals built from scratch, in days.
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