Coronavirus: Race to trace 2,000 people who flew to UK from Wuhan

Aubrey Allegretti, political reporter
Coronavirus: Race to trace 2,000 people who flew to UK from Wuhan

Border Force teams have joined the search for around 2,000 people who have flown to the UK from the Chinese region worst hit by the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

It is understood they have been recruited to help speed up the search for passengers as testing for the virus continues.

Thirty-one people have been tested and given the all clear, while the illness has reached Europe after three cases were confirmed in France on Friday.

Tests on a patient in Northern Ireland have come back negative for the virus, the Department of Health (DoH) has confirmed.

England's Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said there was a "fair chance" cases will emerge in Britain as the overall number reported around the world climbed to more than 1,200, including 41 deaths, all in China.

"I am working closely with the other UK chief medical officers.

"We all agree that the risk to the UK public remains low, but there may well be cases in the UK at some stage."

"The UK has access to some of the best infectious disease and public health experts in the world.

"A public health hub will be set up in Heathrow from today. This consists of clinicians and other public health officials, in addition to existing port health measures."

The public health hub at Heathrow will be staffed by a rotating team of seven clinicians working in shifts to support patients on arrival.

This is in addition to medical staff who are already permanently in place at all UK airports, the DoH said.

All 14 people tested in the UK are thought to have visited Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak originated.

Four out of five patients tested in Scotland were from China, Downing Street said.

Prof Whitty added: "At the minute it definitely looks like this is a lot less dangerous if you get it than Ebola, and a lot less dangerous than the recent coronavirus MERS, and it's probably less dangerous if you get it than SARS virus.

"What we don't know is how far it's going to spread, that really is something we need to plan for all eventualities."

French health minister Agnes Buzyn said that all three of the people who tested positive for the virus in her country had travelled to China and two were from the same family.

The United States has reported its second case, involving a Chicago woman in her 60s who was taken to hospital after returning from China but is reported to be doing well.

Australia has confirmed three cases, one in the state of Victoria involving a visitor from China, a man in his 50s, who was said to be in a stable condition.

In China, an unprecedented lockdown keeping people from travelling has been expanded to more than 50 million residents.

Authorities in Beijing and other cities have also cancelled many public celebrations and other events marking the Lunar New Year.

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Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, sneezing, coughing and shortness of breath.

PHE guidance to GPs says anyone with suspected coronavirus should be placed in a room away from other patients and staff with the door closed.

They should not be allowed to use communal toilet facilities or be physically examined, it adds.

A letter from Prof Whitty to clinical staff said anyone who is confirmed as having the virus will be transferred to an Airborne High Consequence Infectious Disease centre (HCID).

There are four interim Airborne HCID centres in England - two in London, one in Liverpool and one in Newcastle.