Health Secretary warns coronavirus to get worse before it gets better

Health Secretary warns coronavirus outbreak will ‘get worse before it gets better’ as he announces an emergency money pot to build new quarantine wards for NHS hospitals bombarded with cases

  • Matt Hancock told MPs in the Commons today to brace for more cases in Britain 
  • He revealed money would be pumped into NHS to create ‘further isolation areas’
  • Comes after he gave police power to handcuff patients who refused quarantine
  • Global outbreak has killed more than 1,000 and infected over 43,000 worldwide

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned coronavirus in the UK ‘will get worse before it gets better’ as he announced an emergency pot to fight the disease.

He told MPs in the Commons today that health bosses were on high alert for more cases on home soil but said curbing the virus was ‘a marathon, not a sprint’.

Mr Hancock revealed money would be pumped into NHS hospitals at risk of being bombarded with cases to create more isolation areas and infectious diseases wards. 

Only four hospitals in England have specialist units for patients with highly contagious illnesses like coronavirus – two in London, one in Newcastle and one in Liverpool.

These wards are not equipped to deal with high influx of patients and could be easily overrun if dozens of Britons fall ill with the disease.

NHS trusts can now start applying for funding from the Government to build more of these units in hospitals around the country, the Department of Health said.

When quizzed on how much funding would be made available in the fight against an outbreak Mr Hancock said he ‘hadn’t put a cap on it’. 

More than 43,000 people have caught the SARS-like infection worldwide and at least 1,000 have died. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned coronavirus in the UK ‘will get worse before it gets better’ as he announced an emergency pot to fight the disease

Workers in protective suits inside of the County Oak Medical Centre in Brighton on Monday after a GP at the practice, Catriona Greenwood, was diagnosed with the deadly virus

More than 43,000 patients across the world have caught the killer infection, and figures show more than 1,000 people have now died

It comes after Mr Hancock gave police the power to seize people in danger of spreading coronavirus and force them into isolation in handcuffs – in a desperate bid to contain the virus. 

The new law was hurriedly brought into force after a patient staying at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral reportedly tried to leave before completing the 14-day stay after his return from China. 

Speaking in the Commons today, Mr Hancock said: ‘As I said last week, dealing with this disease is a marathon not a sprint.

‘The situation will get worse before it gets better. We will be guided by the science. Be in no doubt, we will do everything that is effective to tackle this virus and keep people safe. 

There have been eight confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the UK so far, and another 200 people are in quarantine after being evacuated from China

Steve Walsh, a businessman from Brighton, was confirmed to have coronavirus. He  unknowingly passed it on to at least 11 other people after catching it in Singapore

Dr Catriona Saynor (pictured left), her husband Bob and their nine-year-old son are all believed to have caught the coronavirus while on holiday with Steve Walsh

Three prisoners in Oxfordshire are being tested for the coronavirus. Two of the men are housed at HMP Bullingdon (shown), close to Bicester, while a third is reportedly in hospital being cared for after becoming ill

The Britons infected with coronavirus – and the patients ill in the UK

Cases in the UK and where they are being cared for:

Newcastle: Two Chinese nationals who came to the UK with coronavirus and fell ill while on the tourist trail in York. They were the first two cases on British soil and confirmed on January 31.

London:  The first British coronavirus victim has become known as a super-spreader. He picked up the virus in Singapore – but flew for a ski break in France afterwards where he appears to have infected at least 11 people.  

Dr Catriona Saynor, who owns the chalet with her husband Bob, is feared to be the fourth patient in the UK diagnosed with Coronavirus. Her husband remained in France but she flew to Britain for medical exams and is in hospital.

Four more people in Brighton were diagnosed over the weekend and confirmed as cases today. They were all ‘known contacts’ of the super-spreader and are thought to have stayed in the same French resort. 

Total in UK hospitals: Eight patients. Six Britons and two Chinese nationals 

British expats and holidaymakers outside the UK and where they are being cared for:

Majorca: A British father-of-two who stayed in the ski resort tested positive after returning to his home in Majorca. His wife and children are not ill.

France: Five people who were in the chalet with the super-spreader. These include the chalet’s owner, environmental consultant Bob Saynor, 48, and his nine-year-old son. They are all in a French hospital with three unnamed others. Dr Catriona Saynor is in Britain.

Japan: A British man on board a cruise ship docked at a port in Japan tested positive for coronavirus, Princess Cruises said. Alan Steele, from Wolverhampton, posted on Facebook that he had been diagnosed with the virus. Steele said he was not showing any symptoms but was being taken to hospital. He was on his honeymoon.

Total: Seven

‘Today I can announce to the House the immediate launch of a capital facility to support any urgent works the NHS needs for the coronavirus response such as the creation of further isolation areas and other necessary facilities.’

It comes after the government announced police are now legally allowed to seize and force coronavirus patients into isolation in handcuffs. 

The new law was brought into force after a patient staying at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral reportedly tried to leave before completing the 14-day stay after his return from China.

Government sources said those who returned to the UK on the evacuation flights on January 31 were given a ‘very clear choice’ and had to sign contracts saying they would remain in isolation for a fortnight.

But a source involved with the Arrowe Park incident said: ‘We found we didn’t have the necessary enforcement powers to make sure they didn’t leave.’

Police will now be able to force people to remain in the units and, if they leave, to arrest them for committing an offence and take them back to the quarantine facility, MailOnline understands.

And they will also be allowed to hunt down and capture people if they ‘may be infected or contaminated [and] could present a risk to public health’.

This extraordinary power comes after footage from China showed a team of around a dozen security officials chasing a suspected coronavirus patient through the streets in a bid to catch them.   

It comes after it emerged that three prisoners in Oxfordshire are being tested for the coronavirus. 

Two of the men are housed at HMP Bullingdon, close to Bicester, while a third is reportedly in hospital being cared for after becoming ill.

The UK is on high alert for more cases of coronavirus, with hundreds of people having been tested and images emerging of medics in protective gear.

The University of Bath today confirmed someone linked to the institution is in self-isolation awaiting the results of a test for the virus, which was today named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization. 

Meanwhile, a worried resident in London took a photo of someone in full protective gear outside their neighbour’s flat. It is not clear if they were a paramedic.

And a private school in Ipswich has been forced to deny rumours of a case among its pupils after someone at a local church made the claim at a service. 

Five cases of the virus have been diagnosed in England in the past week, taking the total to eight.


Someone who is infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.

At least 1,000 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 43,000 have been infected in at least 28 countries and regions. But experts predict the true number of people with the disease could be 100,000, or even as high as 350,000 in Wuhan alone, as they warn it may kill as many as two in 100 cases.  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 COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, after it was first discovered at the end of December last year.

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. 

Where does the virus come from?

According to scientists, the virus has almost certainly come 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 the city, 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 similar 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.  

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 – at least 97 per cent, based on available data – will recover from these without any issues or medical help.

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. 

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 so far killed 1,018 people out of a total of at least 43,112 officially confirmed cases – 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.

However, experts say the true number of patients is likely considerably higher and therefore the death rate considerably lower. Imperial College London researchers estimate that there were 4,000 (up to 9,700) cases in Wuhan city alone up to January 18 – officially there were only 444 there to that date. If cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the virus may be far less dangerous than currently believed, but also far more widespread. 

Experts say it is likely only the most seriously ill patients are seeking help and are therefore recorded – the vast majority will have only mild, cold-like symptoms. For those whose conditions do become more severe, there is a risk of developing pneumonia which can destroy the lungs and kill you.  

Can the virus be cured? 

The COVID-19 virus cannot currently 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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