Coronavirus Update: What is happening now?
Two weeks ago today, it was announced that Brighton resident Steve Walsh, the man suspected of being at the centre of the UK outbreak of coronavirus, had been discharged from hospital and was no longer contagious.
Walsh, who unknowingly contracted the disease in Singapore before going on a ski trip where he is thought to have infected others, was being held in an isolation unit at St Thomas’ hospital in London.
“Happy to be home”
Following Walsh’s release, Professor Keith Willett, NHS strategic incident director, said:
I’m pleased to say that – following two negative tests for coronavirus, twenty-four hours apart – Mr Walsh has been discharged from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, having made a full recovery following his treatment.
Mr Walsh’s symptoms were mild and he is no longer contagious, and poses no risk to the public, he is keen to return to his normal life and spend time with his family out of the media spotlight.
Walsh is now back with his family, and has told the media that he is “happy to be home and feeling well.”
Off the front pages…for a few days
After this announcement, the hysteria surrounding the virus appeared to die down a little bit, with only a handful of new cases in the UK being reported, and the NHS seemingly relatively confident that their containment strategy was working.
However, over the last couple of days, numerous cases have been reported in Northern Italy and Tenerife, in locations that attract a large number of British tourists.
The Foreign Office has now updated its travel advice, warning against all but essential travel to 11 quarantined ski-resort towns in Italy. The government has said anyone returning from those towns must self-isolate, and that anyone who has travelled north of Pisa must stay at home for 14 days if they develop flu-like symptoms.
In the last hour, two UK patients have tested positive for the virus, having picked it up while on holiday in Italy and Tenerife. They have been transferred to specialist NHS infection centres in Liverpool and London, the Department of Health has said.
Ministers now expect more cases to emerge, as authorities trace those who have come into contact with these new patients. But how is the UK preparing for a potential surge in new cases?
Health officials still hope the virus can be contained
So far, Public Health England’s (PHE) containment strategy has worked well. Only 15 cases have been reported in the UK, and all of these have involved infection abroad.
Any new cases have been spotted quickly, isolated, and any contacts chased up to ensure they do not spread the virus if they have been infected.
Obviously, though, there is concern regarding the recent spike in cases in European countries, where there is more frequent travel to and from the UK.
But what if containment fails?
Whatever happens, containment has bought scientists valuable time to work on developing a vaccine.
Earlier this week, it was announced that scientists at a University in Australia will start animal testing a potential vaccine this week, and that they hope to begin clinical trials on humans by the middle of the year.
In the worst-case scenario of widespread transmission in the UK, the NHS has detailed escalation plans to cope with outbreaks of the virus and sudden surges in demand.
The UK has five specialist hospitals for respiratory illnesses that have treated the 15 UK patients, as well as 20 regional infectious disease units that are on standby to take patients if numbers dramatically increase.
Furthermore, PHE has already announced a programme of wider surveillance to see if coronavirus is spreading undetected. Eight hospitals and 100 GP surgeries are providing testing to patients with flu-like illness and respiratory problems.
What should I be doing?
The official advice from The World Health Organisation says that to help prevent the spread of infection, we should all wash our hands frequently, cover our nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, avoid touching our eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible, and that we should not get too close to people coughing or sneezing, as they can propel small droplets containing the virus into the air.
In addition, citizens should follow the advice of their local authority. For example, until we are informed of school closures in the Brighton area, there is no need to keep your child at home.
Anyone who has recently returned from the UK from any of the places listed on the Government website and is experiencing flu-like symptoms should stay inside and call NHS 111 for further advice.