More than 40 guests in a quarantined hotel in Tenerife have been allowed to leave but others have been told they must test negative for coronavirus or wait until next month to travel home.
Local health officials have confirmed 44 people have been allowed to leave the Costa Adeje Palace hotel in Tenerife and that dozens of others deemed low risk can leave soon. It is unclear whether any UK citizens are among them.
But the vast majority of the 168 British guests locked in the hotel remain stranded because travel companies are unwilling to fly them home.
Jet2 has told guests that they will not be flown home before 10 March unless they have tested negative for the virus.
Another travel company, TUI, has urged travellers to remain in the hotel. And EasyJet said it could only accept passengers from the hotel who had been isolated for 14 days.
A spokesperson for Jet2 said its responsibility to its “customers, our colleagues and the general public remains paramount”.
“We will not fly any customer who has stayed at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace during the quarantine, until this incubation period has passed or unless they have been explicitly tested for Covid-19 by a recognised authority and are confirmed as clear of the virus,” said the spokesperson. “We will continue to release more information as it becomes available.”
On Thursday, the Canary Islands minister of health said a group of 130 low-risk guests – including about 50 British nationals – would be able to leave because they had arrived on Monday and had not come into contact with the four Italians who tested positive.
Elsewhere the first cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Northern Ireland and Wales, with a further two people diagnosed in the UK.
Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, said the patient had travelled from northern Italy via Dublin.
He told a press conference on Thursday night: “We have been planning for the first positive case in Northern Ireland and have made clear that it was a question of when, not if.”
He added the virus had the potential to become a “global pandemic” but there were “robust infection control measures in place”.
On Thursday, health officials confirmed two cases of the virus in England in people who had contracted it in northern Italy and Tenerife. On Friday England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, said two more patients in England had tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in England to 17 and the UK to 19.
Experts in infectious diseases said the two cases identified in the UK early on Thursday were not a cause for concern and that the measures of isolating confirmed cases and tracing potential contacts was working so far.
What is Covid-19 - the illness that started in Wuhan?
It is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. Many of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city.
Have there been other coronaviruses?
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals. In 2002, Sars spread virtually unchecked to 37 countries, causing global panic, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing more than 750. Mers appears to be less easily passed from human to human, but has greater lethality, killing 35% of about 2,500 people who have been infected.
What are the symptoms caused by the new coronavirus?
The virus can cause pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. Recovery depends on the strength of the immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health.
Should I go to the doctor if I have a cough?
UK 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 14 days and who is experiencing a cough or fever or shortness of breath to stay indoors and call NHS 111, even if symptoms are mild.
Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?
China’s national health commission has confirmed human-to-human transmission, and there have been such transmissions elsewhere.
How many people have been affected?
As of 20 Februrary, China has recorded 2,118 deaths from the Covid-19 outbreak. Health officials have confirmed 74,576 cases in mainland China in total. More than 12,000 have recovered.
The coronavirus has spread to at least 28 other countries. Japan has 607 cases, including 542 from a cruise ship docked in Yokohama, and has recorded one death. There have also been deaths in Hong Kong, Taiwan, France and the Philippines.
There have been nine recorded cases and no fatalities to date in the UK. As of 17 February, a total of 4,501 people have been tested in the UK, of which 4,492 were confirmed negative.
Why is this worse than normal influenza, and how worried are the experts?
We don’t yet know how dangerous the new coronavirus is, and we won’t know until more data comes in. The mortality rate is around 2% at the centre of the outbreak, Hubei province, and less than that elsewhere. For comparison, seasonal flu typically has a mortality rate below 1% and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths each year globally. Sars had a death rate of more than 10%.
Another key unknown is how contagious the coronavirus is. A crucial difference is that unlike flu, there is no vaccine for the new coronavirus, which means it is more difficult for vulnerable members of the population – elderly people or those with existing respiratory or immune problems – to protect themselves. Hand-washing and avoiding other people if you feel unwell are important. One sensible step is to get the flu vaccine, which will reduce the burden on health services if the outbreak turns into a wider epidemic.
Is the outbreak a pandemic?
A pandemic, in WHO terms, is “the worldwide spread of a disease”. Coronavirus cases have been confirmed outside China, but by no means in all 195 countries on the WHO’s list. It is also not spreading within those countries at the moment, except in a very few cases. By far the majority of cases are travellers who picked up the virus in China.
Should we panic?
No. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. The WHO has declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern. The key issues are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people, and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital. Often viruses that spread easily tend to have a milder impact. Generally, the coronavirus appears to be hitting older people hardest, with few cases in children.
Experts have warned that schools could be closed and major sporting events, concerts and other public gatherings could be cancelled in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
Whitty said the country should prepare to face disruption to many normal activities “for quite a long period of time, probably more than two months” and to pay a heavy “social cost” for efforts to thwart the virus.
The NHS may have to cancel planned operations during the peak of a major outbreak to free up beds and staff for patients with coronavirus, he said, adding that the service would find it “quite tricky” to deal with a huge increase in the number of cases.
The World Health Organization also warned that the outbreak had reached a “decisive point” and had “pandemic potential”.
UK ministers are finalising the government’s plan to respond to the increasing threat posed by coronavirus, which is expected to be published next week. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said: “There is a good chance that we can avoid a pandemic. That’s a potential outcome but not a definite outcome.”
Public Health England is due to launch a major public information campaign next week to educate people about how to minimise the risks of contracting or spreading the virus. Experts have repeatedly stressed that regular hand washing remains the single best way of reducing risk.