Anyone suffering flu-like symptoms could be ordered to “self-isolate” for a fortnight if the number of coronavirus cases in the UK hits the hundreds, in what would be a dramatic shift in Government strategy.
Over the last week, hospitals across the country have created “isolation pods,” to ensure that anyone tested for the virus is kept away from other patients, with efforts to track all close contacts of confirmed cases.
But The Telegraph understands that after a series of high- level meetings health officials are expected to change tack – and simply order anyone with possible symptoms of flu to stay at home – if the virus is not contained.
That means millions of Britons with coughs and colds could end up quarantined at home, as part of attempts to dampen down spread of the virus.
It comes as a Chinese tourist visiting France became the first person to die of coronavirus in Europe and another GP surgery was shut in England.
Eight out of the nine people in Britain to have contracted the virus to date have now recovered and left hospital following treatment.
The five members of a ski group infected by Steve Walsh – the businessman at the centre of the UK outbreak – have said they had recovered quickly.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, today called for more international cooperation to prevent Coronavirus turning into a global pandemic.
The Telegraph understands that senior managers have been told that the NHS could stop testing patients once around 100 cases have been confirmed across the country, if there is evidence of “sustained transmission” within the UK.
The WHO advises countries to carry out a detailed investigation of at least the first 100 confirmed cases of any pandemic.
Britain’s Pandemic Influenza Response Plan sets out protocols for ensuring isolation and treatment for “the first few 100 cases” so that detailed information can be gathered about any novel virus.
But it says the approach should be changed as soon as there is “evidence of sustained community transmission of the virus, ie cases not linked to any known or previously identified cases.”
The health service is already struggling to cope with the number of tests for the virus it is carrying out.
In the last week, the number tested has quadrupled with 2,992 now carried out, up from 686 a week ago.
The NHS has the capacity to carry out 1,000 tests a day, but on Thursday alone, it carried out 763 tests.
Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, has said the current approach aims to contain and delay the spread of the virus as much as possible in order to “buy time” while treatments and vaccines are researched.
But if there are cases of onward transmission in this country , and it becomes sustained, the strategy will shift to “mitigation” as the NHS would not be able to cope with vast numbers of patients undergoing tests.
If large numbers fall ill, but suffer mild symptoms, sending them to hospital, when isolation could not be maintained, would increase the risk of spreading the disease among the vulnerable.
The Foreign Secretary said the British government is helping the World Health Organisation to train rapid response teams and local emergency medics in Asia and Africa to fight the virus and has donated £5 million to the WHO’s Flash Appeal to stop its spread.
Experts say if the situation becomes a pandemic, 60 percent of the population could get the virus – and up to 400,000 people might die.
However, officials stress that it is still possible that the UK could avoid sustained transmission.
One NHS manager in London said services were struggling to cope with demand for tests, with staff spending hours waiting to ensure those undergoing the checks remained in isolation, with ambulances used to ferry them home. She said hospitals were “overwhelmed” by demand to keep up with tests, with nurses being warned that they may have to test people in their homes in future.
On Thursday, the head of NHS England Sir Simon Stevens warned that many more people may be forced to self-isolate as part of efforts to stop Coronavirus spreading in Britain.
Prof Neil Ferguson, professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College, has warned that the world is “in the early phases of a global pandemic”.
He said Britain is probably only picking up around one in three cases, focusing on those coming in to the country, when cases may have arrived – and gone undetected – before restrictions set in.
“Surveillance has started in hospitals across the UK of pneumonia cases, that will give us a proper picture,” he said.
“Our best estimate is that transmission in the UK will get going in the next few weeks; unless we are very lucky probably peaking 2 to 3 months after that,” he said. “If it truly establishes itself in terms of true person-to-person transmission it will behave like a flu pandemic, maybe up to 60 percent of the population being affected but most of those people having very mild symptoms.”
He suggested that 400,000 people in the UK could die from it in the next 12 months, based on estimates of a 1 per cent mortality rate and an infection rate of 60 percent of the population.
The 80-year-old Chinese man who died from the virus in France flagged himself up to doctors soon after arriving in France on January 16, but they initially failed to recognise his symptoms as the Covid-19 Coronavirus.
The man had been receiving treatment in the Bichat-Claude Bernard hospital, northern Paris. His daughter is also in hospital but French authorities say she is likely to make a good recovery.
In Portsmouth the Kingston Crescent Surgery became the latest to shut for deep cleaning until further notice on Friday after a woman suspected to have the virus walked in after falling ill.
The woman is said to have felt unwell some time after arriving in Britain at Gatwick Airport.
The closure is the latest to hit a string of surgeries and health centres around the country, including Islington in north London and Taunton in Somerset, after being attended by patients with suspected Coronavirus.
At the same time the last of those quarantined at Arrowe Park, in the Wirral, after returning from China have now been allowed home.
Mr Walsh, a 53-year-old Scout leader from Hove in East Sussex, contracted Coronavirus on a business trip to Singapore and on his way back stopped off at a ski resort in France, where five other Britons were subsequently infected.
In a statement the group, who were treated at the Royal Free Hospital and St Thomas’ Hospital in London, said: “All of our group, including the six in other countries, have recovered quickly from the virus having required minimal medical treatment during our time in isolation.
“We understand the virus can be dangerous for some, but we also want to share the important facts of our situation to help reassure people.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I am pleased that 8 of the 9 individuals who tested positive for Coronavirus have now been successfully treated and discharged from hospital. Again, this is evidence of how well prepared our NHS is to deal with the Wuhan Coronavirus.
“I want to stress that any individuals who are discharged from hospital are now well and do not pose any public health risk to the public.”