A GP surgery in Islington, north London, closed abruptly today after a coronavirus scare – a day after the capital last night announced its first case of the killer disease.
Cleaners wearing protective clothing were pictured scrubbing down the Ritchie Street Health Centre, near the Angel underground station.
The surgery blamed the virus for its decision to shut in a notice on its door, which read: ‘Practice is closed until 14/02/2020 due to the coronavirus. Any patients that have the symptoms should call 111 and not come to the practice.’
However it has emerged that no patients or staff at the practice have tested positive for the virus – and it remains unclear why management took the decision to shut.
NHS officials say the move may have been precautionary after a patient was tested for the virus after turning up at the practice with symptoms.
The scare comes after it emerged that London’s first coronavirus patient took herself to A&E in an Uber on Sunday and walked into a public area of Lewisham Hospital – going against strict advice to stay at home and ring NHS 111.
Uber today confirmed the driver’s account has been suspended as a precaution, but public health chiefs say the driver does not need to be tested because they did not have close ‘sustained contact’ on the less than 15-minute journey.
The woman, who contracted coronavirus in China, ‘self-presented’ at Lewisham Hospital before being sent home to await the results of tests.
She was rushed to St Thomas’s yesterday after her test results returned positive. She is believed to live with family in London and to be in her late 20s or early 30s.
Two Lewisham medics are now in isolation but no patients are believed to have been affected. The number of people in the UK confirmed to have been infected with the virus now stands at nine, with six in Brighton and two in York.
Other developments in the coronavirus outbreak today include:
- The number of people in England who have been tested for the virus surged by almost 800 overnight, from 1,758 to 2,521
- An overnight surge in cases saw the global total surge to more than 60,000
- A daily record 254 deaths were recorded in China yesterday as the outbreak’s rapid escalation earlier in the month takes its toll
- Japan recorded its first death of the virus today in an 80-year-old woman
- The first 83 British evacuees from Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak, have been released from quarantine in Merseyside after two weeks
- A province in Vietnam has gone into lockdown for the next three weeks to protect its 10,000 residents from the virus
A man was today seen cleaning the inside of the Ritchie Street Health Centre in Islington after it closed because of ‘operational difficulties’
The Ritchie Street Health Centre in Islington has been closed for the day ‘due to the coronavirus’, according to the practice’s website. It is not clear whether this is linked to the case announced yesterday
A sign on the surgery door said it was closed ‘due to operational difficulties’
A tube-goer wears a face mask on a London underground train. It is unclear when the picture was taken, but it was posted on Twitter today with the caption: ‘When coronavirus hits London’
NHS staff wrapped in protective gear were seen at the back of an ambulance at St Thomas’ Hospital today. London’s coronavirus patient is being treated there after being diagnosed last night
The cleaner is seen inside the Ritchie Street Health Centre after a notice appeared on its website saying it was closed ‘due to coronavirus’
The woman, who travelled to the UK from China, was the first case confirmed in London and the ninth in the UK as a whole
Chief executive of the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, which runs the hospital where the London patient turned up, Ben Travi, said: ‘There has been a confirmed case of coronavirus from a patient who self-presented at the A&E department of University Hospital Lewisham on Sunday February 9.
‘The test result was confirmed as positive on Wednesday February 12 and we have been in touch with all staff who came into contact with the patient.’
London Underground ‘could become hotbed’ for the spread of coronavirus after city’s first confirmed case
Doctors have warned the London Underground could be a hotbed for the spread of the strain of coronavirus known as Covid-19.
The warning comes after a London woman became the ninth person in the UK to test positive for the deadly virus.
There are concerns the city’s status as a transport hub could exacerbate the spread of the virus, however doctors have said the risk of infection for residents in the capital remains low.
‘In general, if an initial case is in a densely populated area, then the risk of sustained person-to-person transmission following is higher,’ Dr Robin Thompson of Oxford University said.
‘This is exacerbated by the fact that London is a transport hub, and the underground could provide a network to spread the virus quickly.
‘As a result, given this case was in London, it might be expected that there is an increased risk posed by this case compared to the others we have seen.’
Commenting on the fact that the woman walked openly into the hospital he added: ‘In this case, the patient self-presented at our A&E.
‘As soon as the patient did this, the patient was given a mask and then escorted to be tested in the dedicated area we have assigned for coronavirus testing outside the A&E building – while awaiting the installation of a purpose-built “pod”.
‘As further assessment was required, the patient was then taken to a dedicated isolation room in the emergency department.
‘In line with our protocols, throughout their care, the patient was escorted and did not come into contact with other patients.
‘The patient was later discharged and taken home by London Ambulance Service.
‘All staff who had direct contact with the patient have been contacted, including two members of staff who are undergoing active surveillance at home for a 14-day period as a precautionary measure – following the advice of Public Health England.’
An Uber spokeswoman said: ‘We received a request from Public Health England for information about a passenger who has now been confirmed as having coronavirus. Out of an abundance of caution, we temporarily suspended the account of the driver who transported the individual to hospital, and we remain in close contact with Public Health England.
‘We have a dedicated online portal for public health authorities to contact Uber for information about riders and drivers, and we will take action on any user accounts on the recommendation of those authorities.’
And Dr Rachel Thorn Heathcock, consultant at Public Health England, said: ‘We are in contact with Uber to ensure the driver receives advice and information on what to do should they feel unwell in the coming days.
‘As the journey was less than 15 minutes, the driver did not have close sustained contact with the individual and are not considered high risk. We would like to thank Uber for their cooperation.’
The revelations about the London case come as a parents of a baby in Brighton fear he may have the coronavirus after he was treated by one of the infected GPs in the city.
At least two doctors in Brighton are known to have caught the bug while on holiday with ‘super-spreader’ businessman, Steve Walsh, who caught it in Singapore.
The eight-month-old has ‘all the symptoms’ associated with the virus, his parents told the Telegraph.
His terrified family say they are living ‘in hell’ because his four-year-old sister may also have been exposed.
The unnamed child, who has blood defect haemophilia and a long-term lung condition, is now in isolation at home.
The family, including the boy’s mother, were taken to Worthing A&E by paramedics in full hazmat suits yesterday for tests, with results expected on Friday.
The boy’s father said: ‘My little boy has haemophilia and a lung condition, so he’s already poorly.
‘My ex-partner took him in to get checked out last Tuesday. We took him back yesterday morning, and as we arrived home at about 1pm we got a call from Worthing A&E.
‘They said both my son and his mum had been in direct contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus, and told us to stay at home.’
He said both his children have ‘flu-like symptoms, everything associated with the virus’.
An ambulance pulled up at St Thomas’s Hospital in London his morning where it was met by two staff in protective gear
Vials were exchanged by medical staff wearing protective gear, while another worker in the ambulance was in a full Hazmat suit
An eight-year-old baby was rushed to Worthing A&E by paramedics in full hazmat suits after being treated by a GP infected with coronavirus and developing flu-like symptoms
Metal pods at Royal Preston Hospital in Lancashire. Similar structures have been used at other hospitals to serve as coronavirus treatment units
A cabin is being used as an isolation pod at Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester
At Eastbourne District General Hospital, windowless shipping containers at the side of what appears to be a road in the hospital grounds are used
The woman is being treated at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital (pictured) in London and is the first case of coronavirus in the capital
Schools, doctors’ surgeries, a community centre, a pub and a care home have all been disrupted by the six confirmed cases of coronavirus in Brighton
A total of 1,370 people have now died in the coronavirus outbreak. Japan today became the third place outside of China to declare a death
The Britons infected with coronavirus – and the patients ill in the UK
Cases in the UK and where they are being cared for:
Newcastle: Two Chinese nationals who came to the UK with coronavirus and fell ill while on the tourist trail in York. They were the first two cases on British soil and confirmed on January 31. They are being treated at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.
Steve Walsh: The first British coronavirus victim became known as a super-spreader. He picked up the virus in Singapore – but flew for a ski break in France afterwards where he appears to have infected at least 11 people. He was whisked to St Thomas’ Hospital in London from Brighton for treatment on February 6 – but was released on February 12 after recovering.
Dr Catriona Saynor, who went on the holiday with Mr Walsh along with her husband Bob and their three children, is thought to be the fourth patient in the UK diagnosed with coronavirus. Her husband and nine-year-old son were also diagnosed but remained in France. She was taken to a hospital in London on February 9 from Brighton, thought to be the Royal Free in Camden.
Four more people in Brighton were diagnosed over the weekend and confirmed as cases. They were all ‘known contacts’ of the super-spreader and are thought to have stayed in the same French resort. One is known to be an A&E doctor and is believed to have worked at Worthing Hospital. They are all being treated in London.
London: The first case of the killer coronavirus has been confirmed in London, bringing the total cases in the UK to nine. The woman was diagnosed on February 12 and was whisked off to St Thomas’ Hospital. She is thought to have flown into the UK from China a few days ago, with officials confirming she caught the virus in China.
Total in UK hospitals: Nine patients. Six Britons and three Chinese nationals
British expats and holidaymakers outside the UK and where they are being cared for:
Majorca: A British father-of-two who stayed in the ski resort tested positive after returning to his home in Majorca. His wife and children are not ill.
France: Five people who were in the chalet with the super-spreader. These include the chalet’s owner, environmental consultant Bob Saynor, 48, and his nine-year-old son. They are all in a French hospital with three unnamed others.
Japan: A British man on board a cruise ship docked at a port in Japan tested positive for coronavirus, Princess Cruises said. Alan Steele, from Wolverhampton, posted on Facebook that he had been diagnosed with the virus. Steele said he was not showing any symptoms but was being taken to hospital. He was on his honeymoon.
After last night’s case emerged in London, authorities will be hoping to avoid a repeat of the situation in Brighton where the infected patients manage to visit a pub, community centre, two GP surgeries, a care home and come into contact with parents, staff or pupils at at least 11 schools in the city.
NHS staff in Sussex accused bosses of keeping them in the dark about the fact one of those five carriers – an A&E doctor – had tested positive for the illness. Doctors said they were ‘furious’ their infected colleague’s condition was not widely disclosed despite posing a potential risk to patients and staff at Worthing Hospital, West Sussex.
Confirming the latest case last night, Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, said: ‘This virus was passed on in China and the patient has now been transferred to a specialist NHS centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’.’
More than 14,800 new cases of the virus were reported in China’s hard-hit Hubei province yesterday, taking the number of infections worldwide to more than 60,000 while the death toll rose to at least 1,357.
Yesterday a top scientist warned that as many as 60 per cent of Britons could catch the virus. Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, warned the NHS may be picking up only one in three cases.
He pointed out that UK’s tracing efforts had so far only focused on people who had been abroad.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Ferguson said: ‘If it truly establishes itself in terms of community person-to-person transmission it will behave a lot like a flu pandemic with maybe 60 per cent of the population getting infected, but most of those people having very mild symptoms.’
Fury at Worthing Hospital came as the ‘super-spreader’ at the centre of the UK outbreak was released from isolation.
A doctor in A&E at the hospital revealed that staff had not been told their colleague had been diagnosed before they reported for work yesterday. She said: ‘The first we heard about it was when we read it in the local newspaper. I was shocked.’
Dr George Findlay, deputy chief executive of Western Sussex Hospitals, said the hospital began contacting patients and staff who met the infected doctor as soon as the case was discovered.
The Brighton coronavirus ‘super-spreader’ who accidentally infected 11 people staying in the same French ski chalet was released from hospital yesterday after the NHS declared he is not contagious and ‘poses no risk to the public’.
Scout leader Steve Walsh, 53, has left the isolation unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London after picking up the deadly disease at a Singapore business conference last month and inadvertently spreading it on his 6,736-mile journey home to Hove via the Alps.
The father-of-two gas sales executive has been reunited with his wife and two children in East Sussex, who have been in self-quarantine since he tested positive last week for the never-before-seen virus, which has today been called SARS-CoV-2 and has killed more than 1,100 people across the world.
He said: ‘I’m happy to be home and feeling well. I want to give a big thank you to the NHS who have been great throughout and my thoughts are with everyone around the world who continues to be affected by the virus. It’s good to be back with my family.’
This is the coronavirus super-spreader Steve Walsh, who inadvertently infected 11 people with the disease on a ski break in the Alps, and revealed he has beaten the virus
Dr Catriona Saynor (pictured left) quit as a partner in Brighton to live permanently in the French chalet where the British super-spreader visited to ski. She works at County Oak Medical Centre as a locum, according to the medical centre’s website. Her husband Bob and their nine-year-old son are also said to have been confirmed with coronavirus
Mark Rumble (right), 31, from Oxfordshire, is pictured with boxing legend Ricky Hatton in Thailand
MAKESHIFT ISOLATION ‘PODS’ EMERGE AT HOSPITALS ACROSS THE UK
Makeshift coronavirus isolation ‘pods’ have emerged at hospitals across England as the country is on high alert for new cases of the illness.
The NHS has ordered all hospitals to set up the isolation booths so they can send people there if they are suspected to have the coronavirus, named SARS-CoV-2.
Pictures show rusty portable cabins and windowless shipping containers being used for the purpose on the grounds outside of hospitals’ main buildings or in car parks.
Health service bosses said there must be facilities in placer to keep suspected patients away from the general public while they’re assessed over the phone by medics.
Hospitals in Hartlepool, Stevenage, Preston, Blackpool, Eastbourne, Brighton and Bournemouth have reportedly been seen with the pods outside.
Mr Walsh decided to reveal his identity yesterday after inadvertently putting Brighton at the centre of Britain’s coronavirus crisis after five people on his ski holiday – including at least two doctors, one of whom has been named as Dr Catriona Greenwood – also tested positive.
Eleven schools in the Brighton area, including one attended by his two children, have been gripped by coronavirus with staff and pupils have been told to quarantine at home. A care home has also been sealed off to visitors and two GP surgeries were closed yesterday for deep cleaning – one of which has reopened.
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.
‘I would like to thank the clinical team who treated Mr Walsh in hospital, as well as all the NHS staff who are working hard with other health organisations to limit the spread of coronavirus and treat the small numbers who have contracted the illness. Anyone with any health concerns should contact NHS 111.’
His next-door neighbour of 15 years said the father-of-two is ‘feeling fine’ but feels concerned about how he will be perceived.
‘I’ve spoken to his wife Cathy directly and to Steve by email and they are absolutely terrified of being made scapegoats for all this which would be totally unfair,’ Ian Henshall, a 59-year-old author, told The Mirror.
‘He acted as quickly as he possibly could as soon as he got ill. They are a lovely family. He is feeling fine now and Cathy is hoping he will be able to leave isolation and come home soon.
Staff in high-visibility jackets at the facility at Arrowe Park Hospital on Merseyside. 83 people who had been evacuated from China and put into quarantine there were sent home today
Matt Raw, who is originally from Knutsford, Cheshire, but moved to Wuhan last year, earlier this week said: ‘I don’t think anybody has a reason to complain here’ (pictured outside Arrowe Park Hospital today)
A coach arrives at Arrowe Park Hospital to take the 83 quarantined Brits home
Matt Raw, the first evacuee from Wuhan to be pictured leaving Arrowe Park Hospital, punched the air as he was let out of a gate guarded by two security guards
CORONAVIRUS: WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR
What is this virus?
The virus has been identified as a new type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens, most of which cause mild lung infections such as the common cold.
But coronaviruses can also be deadly. SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is caused by a coronavirus and killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in the early 2000s.
Can the Wuhan coronavirus kill?
Yes – 1,383 people have so far died after testing positive for the virus.
What are the symptoms?
Some people who catch the Wuhan coronavirus may not have any symptoms at all, or only very mild ones like a sore throat or a headache.
Others may suffer from a fever, cough or trouble breathing.
And a small proportion of patients will go on to develop severe infection which can damage the lungs or cause pneumonia, a life-threatening condition which causes swelling and fluid build-up in the lungs.
How is it detected?
The virus’s genetic sequencing was released by scientists in China and countries around the world have used this to create lab tests, which must be carried out to confirm an infection.
Delays to these tests, to test results and to people getting to hospitals in China, mean the number of confirmed cases is expected to be just a fraction of the true scale of the outbreak.
How did it start and spread?
The first cases identified were among people connected to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan.
Cases have since been identified around China and are known to have spread from person to person.
What are countries doing to prevent the spread?
Countries all over the world have banned foreign travellers from crossing their borders if they have been to China within the past two weeks. Many airlines have cancelled or drastically reduced flights to and from mainland China.
Is it similar to anything we’ve ever seen before?
Experts have compared it to the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The epidemic started in southern China and killed more than 700 people in mainland China, Hong Kong and elsewhere.
SCROLL DOWN TO SEE MAILONLINE’S FULL Q&A ON THE CORONAVIRUS
‘They are just obviously very concerned about being made scapegoats in all this.’
It came as two teachers at the school Mr Walsh’s two children usually attend were put into ‘self isolation’ in case they had picked up the virus, as health authorities try to trace hundreds of people he and other Britons have come into contact with since returning from Asia.
Following the Singapore conference, Mr Walsh accidentally infected at least 11 other Britons on his 6,736-mile journey home to Hove via a ski holiday with friends in the Alps.
Hospital staff yesterday accused NHS bosses of keeping them in the dark about the fact that an A&E doctor had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Doctors said they were ‘furious’ that their infected colleague’s condition was not widely disclosed despite posing a potential risk to patients and workers at the hospital.
Officials have launched a hunt for any patients treated by the locum doctor during two shifts on the busy ward at Worthing Hospital in West Sussex last week.
It came as the coronavirus ‘super-spreader’ at the centre of the UK’s outbreak was released from an NHS isolation unit yesterday after making a full recovery.
Mr Walsh is linked to five other confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK, including two GPs who worked at several NHS facilities across the south coast after becoming infected.
One of the individuals is understood to be the male GP who worked at Worthing Hospital.
A doctor working in A&E at the hospital revealed that staff working in the department had not been told that their colleague had been diagnosed before they reported for work yesterday morning (WED).
She said: ‘I had to go into work this morning knowing someone in A&E had tested positive for coronavirus yet we had been told nothing.
‘The first we heard about it was when we read it in the local newspaper.
‘I was shocked and when I checked with colleagues I found they hadn’t been told either but were expected to turn up for work as normal.’
The doctor added: ‘But what really angered me was managers knew about this and while they are telling everyone else about it only the people who were on duty at the time had been informed.
‘I think, given the seriousness of the outbreak, the very least they could do is tell staff who are working under that threat. Staff are furious.’
Public Health England has faced criticism for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak and has been accused of withholding information in an attempt to stop public hysteria.
A part-time nurse, who was working at the hospital on Tuesday night, said she and her colleagues had heard ‘absolutely nothing’ about the coronavirus case.
The nurse, who wished to remain anonymous, said: ‘It struck me as strange that we all did not know about this as soon as possible.’
Officials have begun tracing a number of patients who were treated by the doctor during the two shifts on February 4 and 5.
A father-of-two from Worthing revealed that his partner and young child were contacted by the hospital on Tuesday and told that they needed to have a test for the virus.
He told The Daily Mail: ‘My child was in A&E because it is already very sick and this has left me sick with worry. I’ve hardly slept since I found out.’
The father, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been told to quarantine himself, his partner and their two young children while awaiting the results of tests.
Meanwhile, workers at the hospital yesterday said that patients had abandoned appointments after the coronavirus case emerged, while others expressed frustration at the lack of information.
Sookie Scannell, 24, who was attending a pregnancy scan, told The Times: ‘There should have been some information from the hospital. Surely it’s safer to find this stuff out from a doctor rather than over Facebook?’
Cleaning equipment arrives at the County Oak Medical centre in Brighton, which was temporarily closed after reports a member of staff was infected
A worker cleaning the floor of the pharmacy attached to the The County Oak Medical Centre in Brighton
The Grenadier pub in Hove, where the superspreader went for a drink after returning from Singapore with the virus. Staff who were on shift that night have been told to self-isolate
Patcham Nursing Home in the north of the city has closed its doors to visitors amid fears a GP with coronavirus visited one of its 24 elderly residents last week
BRITISH CITIZEN WHO CHOSE TO REMAIN IN WUHAN SAYS ANYONE WHO BREAKS NEW QUARANTINE LAWS WILL BE ARRESTED
A British citizen who chose to remain in coronavirus-hit Wuhan with his family says anyone who tried to break newly-imposed residential quarantines will be arrested.
Chris Hill, who lives in the Chinese city with his wife, Caitlyn Gao, and four-year-old daughter, Renee Gao, said one person per family was permitted to leave his housing area every two or three days to buy food.
‘The whole city is on lock-down. They have medical personnel at the main gate of all housing places to make sure that no-one comes in or no-one goes out that’s ill,’ he said.
‘Some instances I have heard of people trying to break through the residential quarantine. They got half way out but then they were tackled to the ground by medical personnel and police.
‘Anybody that is caught trying to get out of the quarantine area of the buildings will be arrested for a criminal act.’
Mr Hill, from Sunderland, says that following the final repatriation flight from Wuhan, communication with the British government had ceased.
‘Now that I’ve made the decision to stay, anyone who chose to stay – that’s it. We’re here for the long haul,’ he said.
‘We’re allowed to leave the house but not the residential area,” he said. “But [my daughter] is young so it’s best to keep her indoors. She understands that people are ill and that it’s not safe to go outside.’
Dr George Findley, deputy chief executive of Western Sussex Hospitals, said the hospital began contacting patients and staff who met the infected doctor as soon as the case was discovered.
Tim Loughton, the Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, said yesterday that a number of GPs from Brighton were among those staying in the French ski chalet with Mr Walsh.
The two in the Brighton area who have tested positive are reported to have treated 12 patients at two GP surgeries, the A&E ward at Worthing Hospital and a nursing home.
At least five surgeries across the Brighton and Hove area have been forced to close their doors for sterilisation after doctors there were linked to coronavirus cases.
Yesterday, the Avenue Surgery said it had closed after one of its GPs, Dr Robert Hacking, had been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.
A number of doctors have reportedly been told to stay away from work after socialising with Catriona Greenwood, 50, a doctor who is linked to Mr Walsh.
She owned the chalet in the French Alps where he spread the virus to friends during a four-day holiday last month.
Miss Greenwood worked a shift at the Warmdene surgery in Brighton surgery last week, that was closed down earlier this week for deep-cleaning but has since reopened.
At least ten schools in the Brighton and Hove area have also issued advice to parents and placed staff members or pupils linked to coronavirus cases in so-called ‘self-isolation’ to quell any possible spread.
The country remains on high alert for new cases after almost 800 Britons were tested for the killer infection in the space of one day.
Department of Health figures show more than 2,500 patients in total have been tested for the SARS-2 virus, with nine confirmed cases in the UK.
Two prisoners at HMP Bullingdon in Oxfordshire who were being held in isolation amid fears they may have been infected tested negative for the illness yesterday.
One of them was Mark Rumble, 31, who was brought back to the UK around two weeks ago after being extradited from Thailand.
It comes as the chief executive of the NHS today warned more people may need to self-isolate to contain the spread of the escalating outbreak.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE DEADLY CORONAVIRUS IN CHINA?
Someone who is infected with the coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.
More than 1,380 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 64,400 have been infected in at least 28 countries and regions. But experts predict the true number of people with the disease could be as high as 350,000 in Wuhan alone, as they warn it may kill as many as two in 100 cases. Here’s what we know so far:
What is the coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.
The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.
Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.
The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.
Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals.
‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses).
‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’
The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.
By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.
The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000.
Just a week after that, there had been more than 800 confirmed cases and those same scientists estimated that some 4,000 – possibly 9,700 – were infected in Wuhan alone. By that point, 26 people had died.
By January 27, more than 2,800 people were confirmed to have been infected, 81 had died, and estimates of the total number of cases ranged from 100,000 to 350,000 in Wuhan alone.
By January 29, the number of deaths had risen to 132 and cases were in excess of 6,000.
By February 5, there were more than 24,000 cases and 492 deaths.
By February 11, this had risen to more than 43,000 cases and 1,000 deaths.
A change in the way cases are confirmed on February 13 – doctors decided to start using lung scans as a formal diagnosis, as well as laboratory tests – caused a spike in the number of cases, to more than 60,000 and to 1,369 deaths.
Where does the virus come from?
According to scientists, the virus has almost certainly come from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.
The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in the city, which has since been closed down for investigation.
Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat.
A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent similar to a coronavirus they found in bats.
However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.
Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.
‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’
So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it?
Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.
It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs.
Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.
Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.
‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’
If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die.
‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.
‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’
How does the virus spread?
The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.
It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky.
Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.
There is now evidence that it can spread third hand – to someone from a person who caught it from another person.
What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?
Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.
If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients – at least 97 per cent, based on available data – will recover from these without any issues or medical help.
In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.
What have genetic tests revealed about the virus?
Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world.
This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.
Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.
However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.
This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.
More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.
How dangerous is the virus?
The virus has so far killed 1,383 people out of a total of at least 64,441 officially confirmed cases – a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.
However, experts say the true number of patients is likely considerably higher and therefore the death rate considerably lower. Imperial College London researchers estimate that there were 4,000 (up to 9,700) cases in Wuhan city alone up to January 18 – officially there were only 444 there to that date. If cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the virus may be far less dangerous than currently believed, but also far more widespread.
Experts say it is likely only the most seriously ill patients are seeking help and are therefore recorded – the vast majority will have only mild, cold-like symptoms. For those whose conditions do become more severe, there is a risk of developing pneumonia which can destroy the lungs and kill you.
Can the virus be cured?
The COVID-19 virus cannot currently be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.
Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.
No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.
The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.
Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.
People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.
And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).
However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.
Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?
The outbreak is an epidemic, which is when a disease takes hold of one community such as a country or region.
Although it has spread to dozens of countries, the outbreak is not yet classed as a pandemic, which is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.
The head of WHO’s global infectious hazard preparedness, Dr Sylvie Briand, said: ‘Currently we are not in a pandemic. We are at the phase where it is an epidemic with multiple foci, and we try to extinguish the transmission in each of these foci,’ the Guardian reported.
She said that most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.