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UK government declares coronavirus a 'serious and imminent threat to public health'

Under new measures announce today the UK Department of Health said people can be forcibly quarantined.

Members of staff wait as coaches carrying Coronavirus evacuees arrive at Kents Hill Park Training and Conference Centre, in Milton Keynes, after being repatriated to the UK from the coronavirus-hit city of Wuhan in China.
Members of staff wait as coaches carrying Coronavirus evacuees arrive at Kents Hill Park Training and Conference Centre, in Milton Keynes, after being repatriated to the UK from the coronavirus-hit city of Wuhan in China.
Image: PA

Updated Feb 10th 2020, 9:45 AM

THE UK GOVERNMENT has declared coronavirus a “serious and imminent threat to public health” and introduced new powers to deal with the spread of the virus. 

Under new measures announced on Monday, the Department of Health said people with coronavirus can now be forcibly quarantined and will not be free to leave, and can be forcibly sent into isolation if they pose a threat to public health.

A spokesman said: “Our infection control procedures are world leading and the NHS is well prepared to deal with novel coronavirus.

“We are strengthening our regulations so we can keep individuals in supported isolation for their own safety and if public health professionals consider they may be at risk of spreading the virus to other members of the public.

“This measure will rightly make it easier for health professionals to help keep people safe across the country.”

Also today, the European Union announced it will host an extraordinary meeting of health ministers this coming Thursday to discuss the coronavirus outbreak. 

So far, only around 30 cases of the new strain have been detected in Europe, but the World Health Organisation warns that cases outside China could accelerate. 

“Now is the time to join forces to stop this epidemic,” said European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic.

Source: PA

It comes after a British man who caught coronavirus in Singapore appears to be linked to at least seven other confirmed cases in England, France and Spain.

Health officials are not confirming a link or giving detail on his relationship to the other people diagnosed with the illness, but he is reported to be a middle-aged British man and is understood to have been the first UK national to contract the disease.

There are now four confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, with this man having been the third to test positive.

Back to work

Meanwhile in China, millions of people are returning to work today after an extended holiday designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus that has already killed more than 900 people.

At least 40,000 others have been infected by the virus, which is believed to have emerged late last year in a market in Wuhan.

And although the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said there are tentative signs the epidemic is stabilising, the agency’s chief warned there may more infections abroad in people who have never travelled to China.

The comments from Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus came as a team of WHO experts departed for China, led by Bruce Aylward, a veteran of previous health emergencies.

In an attempt to contain the virus, cities in Hubei have been locked down and transport links countrywide were cut to stop the movement of hundreds of millions of people who usually visit family during the annual Lunar New Year holiday.

Officially the Lunar New Year holiday was extended by only three days, but many cities and provinces pushed the deadline until 10 February. 

The unprecedented measures have turned cities into ghost towns, with people staying inside.

But there were some signs today of the country beginning to make a return to normality.

Roads in Beijing and Shanghai had significantly more traffic than in recent days and the southern city of Guangzhou said it would start to resume normal public transport today. 

But for those at work, it was not an easy balance to strike.

“Of course we’re worried,” said a 25-year-old man surnamed Li in a beauty salon in Beijing, which reopened today. 

“When customers come in, we first take their temperature, then use disinfectant and ask them to wash their hands.”

However, tens of millions of people in Hubei province were not returning to work, as the province – the epicentre of the outbreak – remained under lockdown.

Even outside the quarantined province, many companies were limiting staff.

The Shanghai government suggested reducing large gatherings of people through staggered work schedules, suspending central air systems, avoiding group meals and keeping at least one metre away from work colleagues.

Online office communication tool DingTalk said in a Weibo post last week that nearly 200 million people were using the platform to work from home.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said 60% of its member companies were planning mandatory work-from-home policies.

State media reported that passenger numbers on the Beijing subway was down by about 50% today compared to a normal work day.

Large shopping malls in the capital were deserted.

A bank employee in Shanghai said he was heading to work for a half-day, with other employees taking over in the afternoon. 

The rest of the day, staff are instructed to work from home.

“It makes our work more difficult because we need to access the systems in our office,” he said.

Other employers, including auto manufacturer Toyota, simply delayed work for another week. Schools and universities across the country remained shut.

Meanwhile, in Japan, 60 more people on a quarantined cruise ship have tested positive for coronavirus, Japan’s health minister said today. 

There are now 130 confirmed cases on the Diamond Princess, quarantined in the port of Yokohama, near Tokyo, with officials previously saying 70 people had the virus among the 3,711 passengers and crew.

© – AFP 2020 - with reporting from Press Association 

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