Wuhan novel coronavirus: what you need to know

Content from Public Health Matters Blog

At PHE we respond to around 10,000 disease outbreaks and health emergencies every year both at home and abroad, ranging from e-coli, legionnaires and TB through to emerging threats such as the outbreak of a novel (new) coronavirus in Wuhan, China.

This is a rapidly evolving situation which we are monitoring carefully but based on the available evidence, the current risk to the UK population is low.

In this blog we’ll answer some of the questions many people have. We’ll update this blog as new information becomes available.

What is Wuhan novel coronavirus and should I be concerned?

A coronavirus is a type of virus. As a group, coronaviruses are common across the world.

Typical symptoms of coronavirus include fever and a cough that may progress to a severe pneumonia causing shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

Generally, coronavirus can cause more severe symptoms in people with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.

Wuhan Novel Coronavirus is a new strain of coronavirus first identified in Wuhan City, China. No confirmed cases of Wuhan coronavirus have been detected in the UK and we currently consider the risk to the UK population to be low.

What is the current risk level to the UK?

The risk to the UK population has been assessed as low. This has been raised from very low due to current evidence on the ability for the virus to spread between people.

As of 28 January, a total of 97 UK tests have concluded, of which 97 were confirmed negative and 0 positive.

If and when a first case in the UK is confirmed, it will be announced as soon as possible by the Chief Medical Officer of the affected country. This will be followed by a statement by England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty.

How do we decide the risk level?

Several factors are taken into account to determine the risk level including the number of cases, the speed at which new cases are being identified and other information about the virus such as how easily it spreads from person to person.

Can we stop the virus coming to the UK?

No system of checks can claim to offer absolute protection because of the incubation period of the virus. Some people might only show symptoms 14 days after exposure to an infected person. Our approach to enhanced monitoring helps us ensure  that travellers from Wuhan get the right information  about what to do if they become unwell.

Healthcare professionals have also received advice, covering initial detection and investigation of possible cases, infection prevention and control, and clinical diagnostics so they are well prepared to assist anyone who is suspected of having Wuhan novel coronavirus.

The UK is one of the countries outside China to have an assured testing capability test for this disease. If a person is diagnosed with the virus they will be transferred to a national specialist treatment centre. High Consequence Infectious Disease (HCID) treatment centres have the facilities and specialist staff to implement robust infection control measures.

As has already been demonstrated in response to diseases like MERS, Ebola and Monkeypox, Public Health England and the NHS have robust protocols in place to manage cases of imported infections.

What measures are being taken to protect the UK?

PHE has introduced advanced monitoring at airports with direct flights from China. A team of public health experts has been established in Heathrow airport to support anyone arriving on flights from China who feels unwell. These hubs will bring in rotational teams of 7 clinicians, working in shifts, who will be on hand to support patients on arrival. This is in addition to medical staff who are already permanently in place at all UK airports and the advice issued to all UK airports for people travelling to and from China.

China has also introduced port-of-exit screening so people already exhibiting symptoms are not allowed to leave the country.

If flights resumed from Wuhan, the UK would ensure that:

  • A broadcast message to passengers is made on the aircraft, to encourage travellers to report their illness;
  • Early warnings of any passenger illness from the captain of the aircraft is made in transit. A response (nil or otherwise) will be requested no later than 60 minutes before the actual arrival time.
  • We had an isolated area of London Heathrow Terminal 4 for the reception of the aircraft
  • A General Aircraft Declaration (GAD) was made by the captain of the aircraft, prior to passenger disembarkation
  • Support in accordance with current operating procedures by the PHE teams is provided to any self-declaring passenger, and if required by the NHS

Can we test people for Wuhan novel coronavirus and how does this work?

PHE is a world-leader in developing techniques to aid the public health investigation of infectious diseases. The UK is one of the countries outside China to have an assured testing capability test for this disease. It is a complex test which can differentiate this type of coronavirus from any other coronavirus.

What’s the current travel advice?

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Hubei Province and now advise against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China (not including Hong Kong and Macao).

The FCO is working to make available an option for British nationals to leave Hubei province. If you’re a British national in Hubei Province and need assistance, contact our 24/7 number +86 (0) 10 8529 6600 or the FCO in London on (+44) (0)207 008 1500.

If you have visited Wuhan in the last 14 days, you should stay indoors and avoid contact with others where possible, and call NHS 111 informing them of your symptoms and your recent travel to the city. If you are in Northern Ireland, call your GP.

Please follow this advice even if you do not have symptoms of the virus. If you develop a fever, difficulty breathing or a cough, you should continue to follow the advice above. Please do not leave your home until you been given advice by a clinician.

What does self-isolation mean for people who don’t have symptoms?

Just like when you have the flu, individuals should remain at home and should not go to work, school or public areas. Where possible, individuals should avoid having visitors to their home but it is ok for friends, family or delivery drivers to drop off food. Individuals should not use public transport or taxis until 14 days after their return from Wuhan.

Individuals should monitor their symptoms and call NHS 111 (or your national alternative) or their GP if they develop any of the following symptoms – fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat and difficulty breathing.

Should I be doing anything to protect myself if I’m in the UK?

This is a rapidly evolving situation which we are monitoring carefully but based on the available evidence, the current risk to the UK is low and no confirmed cases of Wuhan coronavirus have been detected in the UK.

NHS and PHE have an established plan to respond quickly and reduce the risk to others if people contact us to say they have symptoms and have recently travelled to China.

Advice for healthcare professionals

Read the collection page for information on Wuhan novel coronavirus, including assessment and management of suspected UK cases.