UK heading for coronavirus lockdown after explosion in european cases

Is Britain heading for a coronavirus lockdown? England sports fixtures are under threat, schools shut and workers sent home amid fear and confusion over dangers of travelling to and from Europe

  • 80,000 people have caught coronavirus around the world, with global death toll now at more than 2,700
  • Hundreds of new cases in Europe raising fears about spread to the UK with 11 dead in Italy since Friday alone
  • More than 30 UK schools have shut or sent people home despite Health Secretary urging them to stay open   
  • 160 Britons face a fortnight trapped in quarantine in a Tenerife hotel with travel plans for millions up in the air
  • US oil company Chevron has sent home around 300 British staff from his London HQ after one worker felt ill
  • Ireland’s Six Nations clash with Italy in Dublin is called off – but England matches still currently going ahead 

Coronavirus chaos and confusion is gripping almost every part of British life today as schools defied the Government and closed, big businesses shut down and major sporting events faced postponement because of the explosion of cases in Europe.

Travellers to and from Britain are in limbo about whether they should cancel their business or holiday travel for fear of being exposed to the killer virus sweeping the globe.  

Fears are intensifying over the spread of the killer virus because 11 people have died in Italy since Friday – while France and Greece reported new fatalities today as the number of cases on the continent approached 400.

The Foreign Office is yet to ban travel to coronavirus-hit countries including China – only flights to hotspots like Wuhan – and there is no curb on travel into the country despite more than 80,000 cases worldwide and 2,700-plus deaths. 

With the global coronavirus crisis expected to continue through 2020, millions of Britons with foreign holidays booked over the Easter break in April fear they will be unable to travel if coronavirus continues to spread at an extraordinary rate. 

Ireland’s rugby match against Italy on Saturday was postponed today amid fears Italian fans could bring the virus to Dublin – but England’s Six Nations fixture in Rome on March 14 is still going ahead. England’s FA is holding urgent talks today about whether it is safe to host Italy’s football team for a Wembley friendly on March 27. 

More than 160 British guests are already trapped in quarantine in a Tenerife hotel for the next two weeks after an Italian doctor staying there fell ill and today Jet2 suspended bookings to the Canary Islands hotel because of the outbreak. 

Public Health England today warned that it could shut down towns and cities, schools and public transport systems if the current 13 positive tests in the UK began going up at the same shocking rate seen in Europe. 

A China-style shutdown would force tens of millions to stay at home, including essential health workers such as doctors, nurses and pharmacists.  

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said today: ‘There’s no secret there’s a variety of things you need to look at, you look at things like school closures, you look at things like reducing transport.’

US oil company Chevron has sent home around 300 British staff from his London HQ after a worker came down with flu-like symptoms after a foreign trip.

Other companies based in the UK are also scrambling to find out if any of their staff could be carrying coronavirus with a 350,000 Britons estimated to have travelled to Italy and France alone over half term. 

More than 30 UK schools whose students and teachers travelled to Italy on ski trips over half term last week have shut down or sent people home for a fortnight despite Health Secretary Matt Hancock telling headteachers to remain open. 

But Mr Hancock told the Commons this afternoon that British workers told to self isolate by a doctor must be allowed to stay at home for a fortnight with paid sick leave – even if they are not showing symptoms – and must avoid contact with anyone in their home.

He also said the NHS is looking to extend home testing for coronavirus, while a new public information campaign will be launched where Britain’s 66million inhabitants will be reminded to wash their hands and throw tissues in the bin after use. 

Nottinghamshire Police officer has been taken off-duty today and advised to stay at home as a precaution amid Coronavirus fears after he reported feeling unwell while on duty following a recent trip to northern Italy.

A worker cleans the doors of a building in Westferry Circus, next to the office of US oil company Chevron at Canary Wharf, after 300 staff were sent home when a worker who had been abroad began feeling unwell

Travellers to and from Britain are in limbo about whether they should cancel their business or holiday travel for fear of being exposed to the killer virus sweeping the globe.

England football and rugby fans are waiting to hear if fixtures with Italy in Rome and in London are going ahead 

Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough is one of more than a dozen school which have been completely closed after students and staff returned from Italian ski trips. The Health Secretary has urged them to stay open but many have ignored him 

A man is pictured wearing a face mask on the London Underground as UK officials step up their preparations for cases of coronavirus to start appearing on British soil

Britain’s tourism industry also appears to be suffering with the streets of Cambridge deserted today when they would usually be packed with thousands drawn to the city from abroad by its world-famous university and thriving high-tech firms. 

As Britain prepares itself for coronavirus cases to grow markedly, it has also emerged:

  • The number of new coronavirus cases reported outside of China exceeds those in the country for the first time, the World Health Organization says;  
  • Italy is the European epicentre of the coronavirus crisis  – cases from Italy have now been confirmed in Austria, Croatia, Germany, Switzerland, France, Greece, North Macedonia and Spain, as well as Algeria and Brazil;
  • Public Health England has refused to rule out the possibility of shutting down entire towns and communities if a coronavirus outbreak takes hold in the UK; 
  • The NHS has ‘little fuel in the tank’ to cope with a coronavirus outbreak because of a crippling shortage of beds and the 111 phone service is badly stretched, health experts have warned;
  • Stock markets in Europe continue to fall as virus fears trigger a sell-off, with the UK’s FTSE 100 dropping 0.8% and Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC 40 sunk by as much as 2%; 

Mixed messages: How advice from Public Health England and government’s chief medical officer differ 

What Public Health England says:  

‘Our general advice is not to close schools.

‘What we are clear about is if you have been in the area of northern Italy of concern and you have symptoms – it is a cough, shortness of breath or fever – then you do need to self-isolate, you need to phone NHS 111 and await advice for further assessment or testing’ 

What Health Secretary Matt Hancock says:  

‘If anyone has been in contact with a suspected case in a childcare or an educational setting, no special measures are required while test results are awaited.

‘There is no need to close the school or send other students or staff home. Once the results arrive, those who test negative will be advised individually about returning to education.

‘In most cases, closure of the childcare or education setting will be unnecessary, but this will be a local decision based on various factors including professional advice.’

What England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty says:

‘There’s no secret there’s a variety of things you need to look at, you look at things like school closures, you look at things like reducing transport.’ 

What schools say:

Lime Academy Watergall in Bretton, Peterborough, has closed the school to give it a deep clean as they have a family who has recently returned from Northern Italy. 

A statement on the school’s website says: ‘We have taken advice from Public Health England as we have had a family who have recently returned from Northern Italy.

‘Although they are currently showing no symptoms we have been advised to closed with immediate effect in order for us to undergo a deep clean.’

Authorities in Italy have reported that the number of people infected in the country grew to 322, or up 45 per cent in 24 hours, and 11 people have now died.

Austria, Croatia and Switzerland also reported their first cases linked to the outbreak in Italy, while Spain and France recorded new ones, also involving people who had been to northern Italy.

France recorded its second death, a 60-year-old Frenchman who died in a Paris hospital.

The first positive test in South America has also been recorded in a 61-year-old Brazilian man who had recently been to northern Italy.

For the first time, the number of new cases officially reported outside China has exceeded new cases reported by Beijing, Reuters has reported.

It said figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) showed there were 427 new cases reported in 37 countries on Tuesday, compared with 411 reported by Beijing.

Uk Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs this afternoon that 7,132 people in the UK have so far been tested. Of these, 13 have tested positive, of whom eight have been discharged from hospital.

He said the NHS is looking to extend home testing while a new public information campaign will be launched.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hancock suggested that home testing will be rolled out more widely to complement existing hospital testing and the ‘isolation pods’ which have been sited at hospitals in England for people who turn up at A&E with symptoms.

He said: ‘We now have testing sites at all A&E facilities, as far as we know, across England.

‘But we’re also planning to introduce home testing and some of this has started already so that people don’t have to go to the pods in front of A&E which have been put there to ensure that people don’t actually go into A&E where they might infect others.

‘Home testing is the safest place to be tested because then you don’t have to go anywhere, and that will allow us to roll out testing to a much larger number of people as well.’

A number of schools in the UK have told staff and pupils to stay at home after returning from ski trips to northern Italy, where several towns in the Lombardy and Veneto regions remain on lockdown.

At least eight schools have closed despite national guidance urging them to stay open.

But Mr Hancock urged schools not to close unless they had a confirmed case of the virus.

He added: ‘There is no need to close the school or send other students or staff home.’

The Foreign Office in the UK has updated its guidance on travel to Italy, advising against all but essential travel to 10 towns in Lombardy (Codogno, Castiglione d’Adda, Casalpusterlengo, Fombio, Maleo, Somaglia, Bertonico, Terranova dei Passerini, Castelgerundo and San Fiorano) and one in Veneto (Vo’ Euganeo).

Meanwhile, BBC Radio 4 presenter Nick Robinson has said he is in self-isolation at home after returning from a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, where cases have been recorded.

Eleven schools are closed and at least 19 have sent pupils and staff home because of coronavirus after trips to the Alps for health and safety reasons

Italy saw a devastating surge in coronavirus cases over the weekend, with confirmed infections rocketing from just six on Friday to more than 322  today, and 11 people have died

Since cases of the COVID-19 illness soared in Italy over the weekend they have spread around Europe, with mainland Spain, Switzerland, Austria and Croatia today all declaring their first infected patients

Worldwide, more than 80,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus and more than 2,700 have died

Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow is also in self-isolation after travelling to Iran, where at least 12 people have died amid an outbreak there.

Number of new coronavirus cases reported outside of China EXCEEDS those in the country for the first time, the WHO says 

More coronavirus cases are now being reported each day outside China than inside the hardest-hit nation, the World Health Organization has said.

Just 411 patients were struck down yesterday in China, where 96 per cent of COVID-19 cases have been recorded since the crisis began in December.

But data obtained by the UN-agency show 427 cases were recorded outside China, amid a worrying spike in Italy, South Korea and Iran.

The WHO’s director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom admitted the sudden jump in cases was ‘deeply concerning’ as fears of a pandemic continue to grow.

In London, energy firm Chevron asked about 300 British employees to work temporarily from home after an employee in its Canary Wharf office reported a flu-like illness.

A statement from the firm added: ‘Chevron continues to monitor the situation very closely, utilising the guidance of international and local health authorities.’ 

China, where the outbreak began, has reported 78,064 cases and 2,715 deaths, while South Korea has the second-highest number of cases with 1,261 and 11 deaths.

More than 30 schools around the country have been caught up in panic and confusion after children returned home from ski trips to Italy. 

Hundreds of cases of the virus have been diagnosed in northern Italy since Friday as dozens of school trips made their way home after half-term trips.    

Some headteachers have taken evasive action and shut down schools after staff and students came down with ‘mild flu-like symptoms’ after returning from the Alps.

Others have sent home the pupils and staff who went on the trips to Italy, where 11 towns are now in government lockdown. 

While many have decided to stay open, telling pupils they must come in unless they have clear symptoms of the killer virus – a move which has angered some parents.  

NHS to extend home testing for coronavirus to stop it spreading

The NHS is looking to extend home testing for coronavirus, while a new public information campaign will be launched, Matt Hancock has announced.

The Health Secretary also urged schools not to close unless they had a confirmed case of the virus.

The NHS has already started pilots of home testing for coronavirus in London, where nurses and paramedics visit people with symptoms in their own homes rather than them needing to travel, which risks spreading the virus.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hancock suggested that home testing will be rolled out more widely, to complement existing hospital testing and the ‘isolation pods’ which have been sited at hospitals in England for people who turn up at A&E with symptoms.

He said: ‘We now have testing sites at all A&E facilities, as far as we know, across England.

‘But we’re also planning to introduce home testing and some of this has started already so that people don’t have to go to the pods in front of A&E which have been put there to ensure that people don’t actually go into A&E where they might infect others.

‘Home testing is the safest place to be tested because then you don’t have to go anywhere, and that will allow us to roll out testing to a much larger number of people as well.’

Public Health England is not advising schools to close and Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs today: ‘If anyone has been in contact with a suspected case in a childcare or an educational setting, no special measures are required while test results are awaited.

‘There is no need to close the school or send other students or staff home. Once the results arrive, those who test negative will be advised individually about returning to education.

‘In most cases, closure of the childcare or education setting will be unnecessary, but this will be a local decision based on various factors including professional advice.

‘Our goal here is to try to keep schools open wherever we can so long as that protects the public. In fact, our wider goal is to have the minimum disruption, social and economic and indeed to the NHS subject to keeping the public safe.’  

Some schools also reported that they closed immediately for a deep clean following Department of Health and PHE advice.  

Contradictory messages from the government have led to widespread confusion and caused individual headteachers to take matters into their own hands.

Around 160 British tourists will be locked in a Tenerife hotel for two weeks after authorities announced a full-scale quarantine today.

Hundreds of guests will be kept inside the H10 Costa Adeje Palace for 14 days after the virus was brought to the resort by an Italian doctor.

The doctor’s wife and two more Italians in his travelling party have also tested positive for the virus, bringing the total of hotel cases to four.

Britons inside the hotel have been handed thermometers and told to take their own temperatures, while some guests lounged by the pool wearing masks today as they settled in for a two-week stay.

Britain’s hospitals have ‘little fuel in the tank’ to cope with coronavirus, warn experts

The NHS has ‘little fuel in the tank’ to cope with a coronavirus outbreak because of a crippling shortage of beds, health experts have warned.

Research shows the country’s most frail patients are routinely stranded on trolleys in corridors for more than four hours because of the problem.

Almost one in four people admitted onto wards in England in December and January had to wait more than four hours before being given a bed.

The problem has created a backlog outside hospitals which means one in seven patients are also left stranded in the back of ambulances for more than half an hour.

There have only been 13 cases in the UK, all of whom are being treated in specialist wards across the country.

But health bosses are on red alert for a surge in infections now that 12 European nations have racked up 450 cases and 14 deaths between them.

Helen Buckingham, director of strategy and operations at the Nuffield Trust think thank, told the BBC the swine flu pandemic in 2009 showed the NHS was good at dealing with new illnesses.

But she said it would far more difficult now because the health service has ‘very little in the tank’ when it comes to staff numbers and hospital beds.

Meanwhile, authorities are beginning a hunt for tourists who have already left the hotel and may have come into contact with the infected patients.

According to The Sun, at least one Briton who has returned to the UK after staying at the hotel has since been tested after suffering from symptoms.

Spanish health chiefs are gathering names from the hotel and plan to send the list to their countries of origin including the UK.

Holidaymakers fear their Easter travel plans could be thrown into jeopardy due to the fast-spreading coronavirus.

There has been an explosion of cases across popular European countries for holidays such as Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Spain and Croatia while holidaymakers are on lockdown at a hotel in Tenerife due to an outbreak there. Greece has become the latest country to confirm a case and there have been two deaths from the illness in France.

But many aren’t certain whether they can go ahead with their bookings.

The Foreign Office says it’s safe to travel to all of the above countries but advises against all but essential travel to 10 small towns in Lombardy, Italy, and one in Veneto.

However, health bosses triggered confusion yesterday.

When asked in an interview if he would go to northern Italy, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said ‘I’m not planning on going, put it that way’.

However, Public Health England’s Professor Paul Cosford said it would be ‘unreasonable’ to advise people not to travel to Italy.

With Easter five weeks away, holidaymaker Collen Keown, who is due to visit Florence, wrote on Twitter: ‘We have booked Florence for Easter, so we have a dilemma about whether to cancel or not. Currently, there is no government advice against travel there so our insurance would not pay out if we cancel. But affected areas are not that far to the north.’

While another, John Eady said: ‘We’ve got our holiday booked to travel to Venice in two weeks and Italy seems to be riddled with coronavirus. Holiday only cost about £350 for all of us, but the company won’t give us any money back unless the Foreign Office put travel restrictions on.’

And Trev tweeted: ‘Should we be worried about our holiday in Sicily going ahead in June with the coronavirus outbreak in Italy? Will we be given the information needed to keep us safe?’

In Tenerife, Jet2 has stopped selling holidays to the H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel, which is currently under quarantine due to an outbreak of the virus.

However, the airline confirmed its flying schedule to the island remains in place and that any customers due to stay at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace would be transferred to alternative accommodation in Tenerife.

Ireland’s Six Nations clash with Italy in Dublin has been called off amid fears over the coronavirus.

The deadly epidemic has swept through northern parts of Italy, and in a bid to prevent the disease reaching their shores, the Irish government have taken the step to postpone the game on March 7.

Both the women’s Six Nations and Under 20s clashes have also been cancelled.

IRFU chief Philip Browne revealed they are working with the Six Nations in an attempt to find a date to reschedule the fixtures, but there are no details on when that may be.

In his statement, Browne said: ‘We had a very positive meeting with [Irish health minister] Mr [Simon] Harris and his advisors where we requested an instruction as to the staging of the Ireland.

England’s Six Nations match in Rome in a fortnight is still scheduled to go ahead. 

The FA will today hold urgent talks over the impact of the coronavirus on England’s Wembley friendly with Italy next month.

Senior staff will sit down at the national stadium to talk through the problems associated with the fixture after the outbreak increased in northern Italy.

More than 370 people have been diagnosed with the virus in Italy, with nearly a dozen towns put into quarantine. Twelve people are known to have died.

Health ministers from seven European nations have met in Rome to discuss a coordinated response.

The European Commission, which enforces the rule book for the open-border Schengen Area, encouraged countries to adopt measures based on scientific evidence and ‘in coordination and not in a fragmented way’, a spokeswoman said.

Symptoms include a cough, fever and shortness of breath. 

Stock markets continued to plunge today after coronavirus fears in the US caused the worst two-day losing streak on Wall Street in two years.   

The FTSE 100 Index in London fell another 0.8 per cent taking the total wiped off UK blue chips to nearly £100 billion since the start of the week.

The FTSE has now fallen below 7,000 for the first time in more than a year while the Dax in Germany and Cac 40 in France fell as much as two per cent.

The declines across Europe come after another dire session on US markets, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Standard & Poor’s 500 both finishing three per cent lower in the second straight day of sharp declines.

Experts warned there was no sign of a let-up in the shares turmoil as the reality of the virus spread kicks in across equity markets. 

Matt Hancock came under fire last night when he admitted he was ‘not planning’ a trip to northern Italy – but the Foreign Office has not changed its travel advice, meaning flights continue to take Britons to the region and anyone who cancels cannot claim the cost back on their insurance.

Official advice was changed on Tuesday to say that people should self-isolate at home if they have travelled home from one of 11 quarantined towns in the Lombardy and Veneto regions, or if they feel ill after visiting north of Pisa. 

Cransley School, a private school in Northwich, Cheshire (pictured) announced it will be closed for the rest of the week because of coronavirus fears. It will also undergo a deep clean, in a precautionary move to prevent any cases


Three pupils at Torquay Boys’ Grammar School in Devon (left) tested negative for the virus after being sent home feeling ill after a school trip to Italy, and Cambridge House Grammar School (right) in County Atrim, Northern Ireland, sent home around 50 staff and pupils

Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough has closed for the week after pupils returned from a skiing trip to northern Italy. Initially it had sent 36 pupils home but has now closed completely for a deep clean

But health bosses triggered confusion yesterday about whether it was safe to travel in future. When asked if he would go to northern Italy, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said ‘I’m not planning on going, put it that way’ in an interview.

Virus could kill 500,000 Britons in ‘worst-case’ scenario, say officials 

Half a million Britons could be killed by coronavirus in a ‘reasonable worst-case’ scenario, according to a government memo.

The official paper claimed four in five could become infected by the virus.

The document from the National Security Communications Team also warns: ‘The current planning assumption is that 2-3 per cent of symptomatic cases will result in a fatality.’

Health sources suggest that would cost 500,000 lives, according to The Sun. A government spokesman said they did not expect this to happen but every eventuality had to be planned for.

Britons could be told to isolate themselves if a family member falls sick during a coronavirus pandemic. 

Schools may also be shut, transport networks suspended and football matches and other public gatherings postponed, according to possibilities being considered by Department of Health officials. Their coronavirus pandemic plan will be rolled out if the number of British cases escalates suddenly.

They are weighing up the effect of each action to contain the disease against the impact on society and the economy. For example, closing schools would force millions of parents to stay at home, including essential health workers such as doctors, nurses and pharmacists. Other measures could include advising members of the public to keep a safe distance from each other and avoid kissing or hugging.  

However, PHE’s Professor Cosford, said it would be ‘unreasonable’ to advise people not to travel to Italy, and the Foreign Office does not warn against any other parts of the country.

It comes after a ‘worst case’ Government report predicted 80 per cent of Britons could catch the virus and 500,000 may die. 

Italy is struggling to contain the spread of coronavirus with 11 dead and 322 confirmed sick – and dozens of UK schools have returned from the country’s Alpine ski resorts in the past week.  

Authorities in Italy reported on Tuesday night that the number of people infected in the country grew to 322, or 45 per cent in 24 hours, and deaths of patients with the virus rose to 11.

Austria, Croatia and Switzerland reported their first cases, while Spain and France recorded new ones, also involving people who had been to northern Italy.

The first positive test in South America has been recorded after 61-year-old Brazilian man who had recently been to northern Italy tested positive, it has been reported.

Meanwhile, Public Health England announced that flu patients will now be assessed for coronavirus to see if it is spreading – even if they have not visited a hotspot country.

But it has confirmed it is not advising that schools shut in an attempt to stem the spread of coronavirus – unless they have been to one of the specific towns that are identified by the Italian government.

The organisation’s medical director Paul Cosford told Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Schools have to take difficult decisions given the complexity of issues that they are facing.

‘What I would say is that our general advice is not to close schools.

‘What we are clear about is if you have been in the area of northern Italy of concern and you have symptoms – it is a cough, shortness of breath or fever – then you do need to self-isolate, you need to phone NHS 111 and await advice for further assessment or testing.

‘Of course if you’ve been to one of the specific towns that are identified by the Italian government and essentially closed down, then our advice and requirement is to self-isolate anyway.’

He said Public Health England was available to talk to schools about their ‘specific circumstances’ and ‘help them make the right decisions for them’.

Mr Hancock said official advice has been changed to say people who have been to anywhere in Italy north of Pisa should self-isolate if they develop flu-like symptoms on their return to the UK.

One primary school in Essex is closed as a precaution today because a teacher was in Italy over half term – even though the worker is not ill.    

Eight schools were shut today and three more closed yesterday taking the total to 11 – and at least 19 more have been sending students and teachers into self-isolation if they came down with flu-like symptoms or chesty coughs. 

WHERE ARE THE SCHOOLS THAT HAVE BEEN GRIPPED BY CORONAVIRUS FEARS AFTER SKI TRIPS TO NORTHERN ITALY? 

Closed

Pupils sent home 

But a school in Swansea is ignoring pleas from parents to shut down after a class returned from a ski trip to Italy with pupils told that they still have to come in unless they have the flu.

Secondary school Cleeve Park, in Sidcup, south-east London also remained open today despite some of its pupils and staff reporting ‘feeling unwell’ after returning from a school ski trip to Bormio, in northern Italy on Saturday.

The school has announced today that it has advised an unspecified number of pupils and staff to isolate themselves at home, but allowed others from the trip attend.

It said it decided not to close after following advice from Public Health England that the school should remain open and all students should attend if they are well. 

However, some parents are against the headmaster’s decision.

One father has chosen to keep his son at home until results come back negative. 

Headteachers have the final say on when schools close for health and safety reasons such as illnesses or bad weather. 

The latest to shut their doors are Lime Academy Watergall in Bretton, Peterborough and Shepeau Stow Primary in Spalding. 

Lutton St Nicholas and Gedney Church End primary schools in Lincolnshire also closed ‘because of a potential connection to the Coronavirus by an individual within the school’. 

St Christopher’s C of E High School in Accrington told parents it had to shut. 

A member of staff at William Martin Junior and Infant School came back from a half-term holiday in Italy so is shut as a precaution today. 

Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough and Cransley School in Northwich, Cheshire, shut completely on Tuesday so they can be deep cleaned. The Brine Leas Academy, also in Cheshire, shut its sixth form yesterday. 

St Peter’s Church of England Middle School in Windsor closed today for a ‘precautionary clean’ after a pupil returned home from a trip to Italy during half-term.

Archbishop Temple School in Preston closed and said in a notice on its website that it had an ‘unavoidable closure’ because a ski trip had recently returned from Pila, Italy. 

And pupils and staff at 18 schools in Cornwall, Cheshire, Yorkshire, Berkshire, Pembrokeshire, Liverpool, London, Birmingham and Northern Ireland were sent home to quarantine themselves. 

Professor Paul Cosford, medical director for Public Health England, today admitted the Government does not know how many Brits have come back from skiing trips to the north of Italy but said it was a ‘significant number’.

Canary Wharf office of US oil company Chevron sends home 300 workers over coronavirus fears after employee reports flu-like symptoms

The Canary Wharf office of a US oil company has sent home around 300 British workers after an employee in London reported a flu-like illness.

Chevron Corp yesterday told traders and refining unit staff to work remotely until test results can determine whether the worker has coronavirus.

The employee had recently returned from a country infected with the deadly bug. 

A spokeswoman said the firm was taking ‘precautionary measures to reduce their risk of exposure’ and is continuing the ‘monitor the situation closely’. 

The oil company’s office is in Westferry Circus in Canary Wharf, a dense business district also home to banks such as Citi, HSBC and Barclays. 

Around 105,000 people head to work in the area every day.  

The news comes as fears intensify over the spread of coronavirus in Europe as France reported its second death and numbers rocket across the continent.

In the UK, a total of 6,795 people have been tested with 13 positive cases – but there are concerns the figure could rise after an explosion of cases in Italy where more than 350 people have been diagnosed with the illness.

Chevron Corp on Tuesday asked about 300 British employees to work temporarily from home after an employee in its Canary Wharf office in London reported a flu-like illness (pictured, Westferry Circus today)

Chevron sent home about 300 workers from its office in London’s Canary Wharf business district on Tuesday, after an employee who had recently returned from a country infected with the coronavirus reported flu-like symptoms (pictured, the Westferry Circus building today)

Traders, exploration and refining unit staff were assigned to work remotely until test results can determine whether the worker has coronavirus, said a person familiar with the matter

A spokeswoman for Chevron said: ‘[We] continue to monitor the situation very closely, utilizing the guidance of international and local health authorities. 

‘Our primary concern is the health and safety of our employees and we are taking precautionary measures to reduce their risk of exposure. 

‘Consequently we have requested that our colleagues, based at our Westferry Circus office in London, work from home for the time being. 

‘It is our policy to not provide details of our employees.’ 

 

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.

Over 2,700 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 81,000 have been infected. 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.

By February 25, around 80,000 people had been infected and some 2,700 had died. February 25 was the first day in the outbreak when fewer cases were diagnosed within China than in the rest of the world. 

Where does the virus come from?

According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came 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 Wuhan, 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 identical 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. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.

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 will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.

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.

Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why. 

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 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.

Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.

However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.

Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.

Can the virus be cured? 

The COVID-19 virus cannot 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.

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