Furious Brits have hit out at Health Secretary Matt Hancock and told him it’s a ‘bit f****** late’ to tell travellers from Wuhan to ‘self-isolate’ amid fears the killer coronavirus is spreading between people even if they do not show any symptoms.
In a desperate attempt to prevent an outbreak on British soil, Mr Hancock begged travellers to stay indoors, avoid contact with anyone and ring NHS 111 if they have any symptoms. Officials are still desperately trying to hunt down the 1,500 people who are still in the UK after landing from Wuhan in the past fortnight.
Britons have asked if Mr Hancock’s ‘madness’ is the Government’s way of admitting they have no idea who has arrived in the UK from Wuhan, with one even urging the Health Secretary – who was last week told by politicians to ‘pull his finger out’, to ‘do the job we pay him to do’.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted the Government is doing ‘everything we can’ to evacuate the hundreds of Britons stuck in the deserted Chinese city, revealing ministers are working with their counterparts in the US to draw up a rescue mission amid claims that China is blocking an emergency airlift operation.
UK officials are confirming plans and waiting for permission from Beijing before carrying out the unprecedented repatriation attempt. Senior Foreign Office sources have admitted that keeping Brits in Wuhan ‘could prove to be a death sentence’, given the escalating outbreak which has struck almost 3,000 people.
France and the US have already confirmed plans to whisk residents back home, while British ministers have been accused of ‘dragging their feet’. In hope of quashing growing frustration among outraged ex-pats stuck in Wuhan, Mr Johnson said more details will be announced in ‘due course’. He also announced all arrivals from coronavirus-hit parts of China will be screened upon arrival at UK airports.
In the meantime, health chiefs this afternoon revealed 73 people in the UK have already been tested for the never-before-seen virus – but all cases have so far come back as negative. Public Health England today admitted that the first UK confirmed case is likely to come from somebody already in the country.
Ex-pats stuck in Wuhan – capital of Hubei province – have begged officials to ‘get us out of here’ as the outbreak continues to sweep China. One furious Brit said: ‘It’s an utter p***take that we’re being left here like this.’ Politicians have today backed their calls, demanding the Government does ‘whatever it takes’ to bring them home.
While it waits for a green-light to commence the repatriation of almost 300 Britons, the Foreign Office has created a 24-hour helpline for anyone stuck in Hubei province – which is now entirely on lockdown as part of a desperate attempt to contain the SARS-like infection by trapping tens of millions of people.
In other developments:
- British boarding schools have been advised to be alert to the prospect of Chinese students being racially abused due to the outbreak of the virus, which experts suspect may have come from bats or snakes
- Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has accused Mr Johnson of ‘not doing whatever it takes to protect our citizens from harm’, demanding the Government gets the evacuation ‘sorted now’
- China has extended its New Year holiday until February 2 to fight the outbreak which has killed 82 people and struck down 2,900 people in 16 countries or territories, including the US, Australia, Canada and Cambodia
- The World Health Organisation has announced it will meet in Beijing within the next 24 hours to discuss what needs to be done to contain the unnamed coronavirus rapidly sweeping the nation
- Leading scientists have warned that governments across the world must now implement ‘draconian’ travel curbs to stop China’s coronavirus becoming a global epidemic
- The FTSE 100 and other markets have slipped to a two-week low amid growing fears about the economic impact the constantly-mutating virus could have if it continues its rampage through Asia
- Chinese authorities have released first pictures of the coronavirus, which is scientifically known as 2019-nCov, after extracting it from two patients who were struck down in Wuhan
- Suspected coronavirus carriers coming to the UK from the epicentre of the outbreak may have been wrongly told they don’t need to be tested unless they have ‘the sniffles’
- China’s health minister Ma Xiaowei said ‘it seems like the ability of the virus to spread is getting stronger’ and it can be passed from person-to-person even before symptoms appear
China today extended its New Year holiday to fight the killer coronavirus outbreak which has killed 82 people and struck down almost 2,900 people. Cases have been spotted in Canada, US, France and Australia
Medical staff at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital wear protective clothing to prevent the spread of the never-before-seen coronavirus
Grandmother Veronica Theobald, 81, is stranded in Wuhan with her grandson Kharn Lambert (pictured together on This Morning, today)
One Twitter user described Mr Hancock’s intervention, announced in the House of Commons today, as being ‘madness’
Britons have asked if Mr Hancock’s unusual advice is the Government’s way of admitting they have no idea who has arrived in the UK from Wuhan, with one even urging the Health Secretary to ‘do the job we pay him to do’
In hope of quashing growing frustration among outraged ex-pats stuck in Wuhan, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said more will be announced in ‘due course’
Despite the strict guidance to try to contain the virus, one British teacher, David Marland (pictured), who has spent the last decade in Wuhan fears he may be spreading the virus throughout the UK because he claims he was given the wrong advice by an NHS 111 operator
Experts say the difficulty of containing the coronavirus is that so many patients have mild, cold-like symptoms and don’t realise they have the infection
WHAT ARE OTHER COUNTRIES DOING TO EVACUATE EXPATS?
British ex-pats and tourists stuck in Wuhan have begged officials to ‘get us out of here’, venting their frustrations at the Government’s response so far.
About 300 Britons who live in the city are growing increasingly anxious after the number of virus cases soared by 50 per cent in just 24 hours.
They accused the UK of dithering as it emerged the US, France, Spain and Japan had already organised evacuations for its citizens.
France’s health minister Agnes Buzyn said officials will put ‘hundreds’ of citizens on a direct flight to the country later in the week. She said authorities were working on arranging a bus service to get the expats to the airport.
There are some 800 French citizens stranded in the Wuhan area. She said French nationals will be held in quarantine for two weeks on arrival to stop the virus spreading on home soil.
The US State Department is organising a single flight out of Wuhan on Tuesday directly to San Francisco. It said in the event there are not enough seats, priority will be given to to individuals ‘at greater risk from coronavirus’ – those already showing symptoms.
Officials invited US citizens with a valid passport to contact the embassy in Beijing. Private citizens are expected to later repay the travel costs, the notice said. There are roughly 1,000 Americans living in and around the Wuhan area.
Japan said it planned to evacuate all of its citizens using chartered flights. It claimed it was in final discussions about the logistics with Chinese authorities. Some 430 Japanese nationals reside in or near Wuhan.
The government is also considering evacuation by road from Hubei Province, and have Japanese nationals take flights home from other places, according to Japanese media.
Spain’s foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez tweeted this morning that Spanish official are trying to evacuate 20 Spaniards stranded in Hubei province. She did not provide further details.
The government is meeting today to discuss how to evacuate the 70 known expats living in Wuhan, most of whom are students. Air force commander ACM Manat Wongwat said that up to four planes with medical staff are on stand-by to evacuate its citizens in the coming days.
Officials have applied for a chartered plane to be allowed to land at Wuhan airport and pick up 32 Sri Lankan students and their family members stranded in the outbreak’s epicentre.
Its foreign office also said it was working to bring back all other citizens living in the wider Hubei province. There are about 860 Sri Lankan students are in China.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said her government is ‘exploring all opportunities’ to help with evacuation of a number of Australians reportedly in Wuhan. There are thought to be a small number of citizens living in the central Chinese city.
India has asked China if it can make arrangements for its expats to leave. It is not clear how and when India plans to evacuate its citizens if approval is granted. Around 250 Indians are still in Wuhan.
In a significant ramping up of the precautions in the UK around the virus, Mr Hancock this evening told MPs in the House of Commons: ‘Coronaviruses do not usually spread if people don’t have symptoms – but we cannot be 100 per cent certain.
‘From today, we are therefore asking anyone in the UK who has returned from Wuhan in the last 14 days to self-isolate. Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people – and to contact NHS 111. If you are in Northern Ireland, you should phone your GP.
‘If you develop respiratory symptoms within 14 days of travel to the area, and are now in the UK, call your GP or ring 111 informing them of your symptoms and your recent travel to the city. Do not leave your home until you have been given advice by a clinician.’
Officials have not clarified exactly how patients will be taken to hospital if they complain of symptoms – but it is thought they will be taken in an ambulance and whisked straight off to be isolated while doctors run tests.
More than 2,000 people are thought to have jetted into Britain from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the heart of the outbreak, since cases first emerged last month. Mr Hancock’s advice applies to anyone who has entered Britain since January 10.
Mr Hancock, who said there are four centres stood up and ready should there be a need – two in London, one in Liverpool and one in Newcastle, added: ‘Having eliminated those who we know have since left the country, there are 1,460 people we are seeking to locate.’
Officials estimate that up to 200 UK citizens currently in Wuhan will want to return to the UK. If these Britons are flown home by the Foreign Office, health officials will also tell them to ‘self-isolate’ for 14 days.
Mr Hancock added: ‘The Foreign Office is rapidly advancing measures to bring UK nationals back from Hubei Province. I have asked my officials to ensure there are appropriate measures in place upon arrival to look after them and protect the public. If you are in Hubei Province and wish to leave, please get in contact with the Foreign Office.’
When asked about the repatriation operation this morning, Mr Johnson insisted plans are being worked on to help UK citizens in Wuhan and assured ‘we are doing everything’ to screen people arriving from affected regions.
In an interview at the King’s College London Mathematics School after launching a post-Brexit visa plan, the PM was asked for detail on how frustrated citizens would be assisted.
He replied: ‘We are looking at everything we can to give reassurance to those people in Wuhan and you will be hearing a bit more in due course but I don’t want to pre-empt the decisions we are going to make.
‘Obviously, we are doing everything we can to ensure that people who do come to this country are properly screened and checked if they have come from an area that is known to have the infection. So far there is still no case of somebody with coronavirus here the UK but clearly there are a lot of cases in China and it is spreading.’
When asked about the repatriation operation this morning, Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: ‘The Foreign Office are in close contact with international partners, including the US and European countries, to investigate possible solutions.’
But politicians have today hit back at the lack of news regarding any potential plans – the Foreign Office is waiting to hear how many ex-pats want to return to the UK before it plans any rescue mission.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry told the Evening Standard: ‘Boris Johnson is now failing in the first duty of any government — he is not doing whatever it takes to protect our citizens from harm. They need to get this evacuation sorted now.’
Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, told MailOnline: ‘Over the weekend I called on the Government to get a grip, look after British citizens properly and prepare to evacuate them from Wuhan, so it is extremely disappointing that ministers are still dragging their feet.’
The above picture shared by China’s National Microbiology Data Center shows the first-ever specimen of the novel coronavirus, known as ‘2019-nCov’, extracted from a patient
The sample, with a serial number ‘NPRC 2020.00001’, was extracted from a patient on January 6, according to China’s National Microbiology Data Center. It is the first 2019-nCov specimen
BRITISH TEACHER WHO LIVED NEXT TO THE SCANDAL-HIT SEAFOOD MARKET IN WUHAN FEARS HE IS SPREADING CORONAVIRUS IN THE UK
A British teacher who spent the last decade in Wuhan fears he may be spreading coronavirus throughout the UK after being turned away for tests by NHS 111.
David Marland, 34, lived just five minutes from the seafood market thought to be at the centre of the outbreak and walked through it nearly every day.
At least one person in his apartment block has tested positive for the deadly illness that has killed 81 people in less than a month.
Mr Marland, from Buckinghamshire, called the NHS helpline as soon as he stepped off a plan at Gatwick Airport from Dubai, via Hong Kong and the Chinese city of Shenzhen, last week.
He expected to be hauled in immediately for tests, but was only asked if he had ‘the sniffles’. Mr Marland was told to only call back if he began to feel unwell.
That was despite the recent discovery that patients can be infectious without showing any symptoms.
Former Foreign and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme the government will ‘undoubtedly be looking at’ an airlift, but admitted there will be ‘a lot of logistical issues’.
The Foreign Office claims to be on the same page as the US and other international allies, who have confirmed they will sort out a flight to take residents home.
It comes after Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director and director of health protection for PHE, said the first UK case is likely to come from somebody already in the country – but she said that ‘we’ve been here before’ by preventing the spread of MERS and SARS, adding ‘we are ready’ to cope with any potential cases.
In an interview with Sky News, she said: ‘Our view is that, although airports are important, the most likely place that we might find a case is somebody in the country already, and it’s absolutely critical that the public health service and the NHS are ready to diagnose that and are able to designate the person to the right facilities. That’s the most likely scenario we are dealing with.’
Professor Doyle said efforts were continuing to trace the 2,000 people who have entered the UK from Wuhan on international flights over the past few weeks. But she added: ‘It’s not always possible to find everybody but we are working to our best endeavours.’
The Times today reported Britain’s plan to whisk residents out of Wuhan was being hampered by Beijing. It is thought that anyone flying back to the country would have to be quarantined to prevent the potential spread of the virus – France has already announced a similar plan.
Mr Hunt said he would be ‘very sympathetic’, when asked if he supported flying Britons back from Wuhan. He added that it would be ‘very, very challenging for the NHS’ if cases were to crop up in the UK but accepted that doctors and nurses ‘will do exactly what they need to’.
Dr Yvonne Griffiths, 71, from Thornhill in Cardiff, has been posted in Wuhan for three weeks with colleagues from Birmingham City University
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF A BRITISH PATIENT CATCHES THE VIRUS?
Are there any treatments for coronavirus?
Experts have stressed many people with coronavirus will make a full recovery, although some people – both young and old – are being badly affected.
At the moment, there is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for this strain of coronavirus infection.
Patients in England with the virus will be transferred to one of four High Consequences Infectious Diseases (HCID) units in Liverpool, London or Newcastle.
The units have specific areas where staff can change in and out of protective clothing and equipment, while patient isolation rooms have tightly controlled air flow and filtering.
In severe cases of infection, treatment can include life support such as the use of a ventilator, dialysis to support the kidneys and artificial hydration or nutrition.
What advice is being given to the NHS?
Doctors in the UK have been told to leave the room straight away and shut their patient in if they think they might have the Chinese coronavirus. They should close the door and wash their hands thoroughly.
PHE guidance, issued to GPs, says: ‘Avoid physical examination of a suspected case. The patient should remain in the room with the door closed. Belongings and waste should remain in the room.
‘Advise others not to enter the room. If a clinical history still needs to be obtained or completed, do this by telephone. The patient should not be allowed to use communal toilet facilities.
‘Instruct them to not touch anything or anyone when walking to the toilet. Instruct the patient to wash their hands thoroughly after toileting.’
If the patient is critically ill, they should be put into an ambulance, Public Health England said. But otherwise, a hospital should be phoned ahead and warned and the patient must be told to get there without using public transport or a taxi.
Hospitals have also been urged by PHE to check their equipment, supplies and procedures. This includes checking they have respirators that staff can wear if dealing with a patient in isolation.
They should also stock protective clothing such as gloves with long tight-fitting cuffs, disposable and fluid-resistant full-sleeve gowns and single-use goggles. Plenty of clinical waste bags, hand hygiene supplies and chlorine-based disinfectant solutions should also be in stock.
The Foreign Office has confirmed it is working on making an ‘option available’ for British nationals to leave Wuhan in the Hubei province in China, saying the ‘safety and security of British nationals is always our primary concern’. No further details about the plan have been given – but it has told anyone stuck in the Hubei province can call a 24-hour helpline.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab ordered officials to examine the exact logistics for an airlift out of Wuhan, it was reported yesterday, Although a source said ‘a number of things need to fall into place on the Chinese side before we can make any firm promises’.
A senior Government source said: ‘It is a fast-moving situation and it requires some tough calls to be made. But the situation is now so bad locally, and the medical system so overstretched, that it could prove to be a death sentence. We need to get people out.’
Demand for action from expats trapped in Wuhan grew louder when China’s own President Xi Jinping admitted his country was facing a ‘grave situation’. Cases of the never-before-seen virus in China have now been confirmed in every province of the country except Tibet.
Two of the expats stranded in the outbreak’s epicentre spoke on This Morning today, saying they are riddled with anxiety as the coronavirus death toll continues to climb. British PE teacher Kharn Lambert, 31, and his visiting 81-year-old grandmother Veronica Theobald have not been outside for a week.
The pensioner, from Lancaster, is too frightened to go out because her debilitating lung condition – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – means that she may not survive a bout of the deadly coronavirus. ‘She needs about 18 different medicines each day and, if she caught this virus, I’m afraid it would kill her,’ Mr Lambert, 31, said last night.
Mrs Theobald arrived in Wuhan in early December and was due to return to the UK tomorrow but her flight was one of those cancelled when the city was effectively closed off to the world on Thursday. She has just a week’s supply of her vital drugs left.
As Mr Lambert and his grandmother waited anxiously, elsewhere in the city yesterday British expats were exchanging angry messages on social media about the apparent intransigence of the Foreign Office in response to their pleas to ‘get us out of here’.
Other British ex-pats living in Wuhan – home to 11million people – have described the eerie scenes on the streets of a usually bustling city. But the city is reportedly standing together to fight the outbreak, with locals chanting ‘Wuhanjiayou’ – which roughly translates as ‘Wuhan, keep going’.
Chris Hill, a foreign language coach originally from Washington in Tyne and Wear, told the PA news agency he had seen scenes of ‘panic and chaos’ akin to something ‘you would see in a movie’ when shopping at a supermarket in the early stages of the outbreak.
Matthew Heard, a 31-year-old education consultant from London who has lived in Wuhan for the past five years, told The Guardian that the best word to sum up the situation in the city at the moment is ‘confusion’.
Chris Hill, a foreign language coach originally from Washington in Tyne and Wear, told the PA news agency he had seen scenes of ‘panic and chaos’ akin to something ‘you would see in a movie’ when shopping at a supermarket in the early stages of the outbreak (Mr Hill is pictured wearing a gas mask he bought online)
Thermal scanning at Sultan Iskandar Muda International Airport in Indonesia shows people’s temperatures beside their heads – those who have high temperatures will be checked to see if they have a fever
The rapid-build hospital in Wuhan started to take shape today, January 27, as hundreds of people work tirelessly to build the pre-fabricated structure in a matter of days
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 respiratory 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 it kill?
Yes. Eighty-one people have so far died after testing positive for the virus.
What are the symptoms?
Its symptoms are typically a fever, cough and trouble breathing, but some patients have developed pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening infection that causes inflammation of the small air sacs in the lungs. People carrying the novel coronavirus may only have mild symptoms, such as a sore throat. They may assume they have a common cold and not seek medical attention, experts fear.
How is it detected?
The virus’s genetic sequencing was released by scientists in China to the rest of the world to enable other countries to quickly diagnose potential new cases. This helps other countries respond quickly to disease outbreaks.
To contain the virus, airports are detecting infected people with temperature checks. But as with every virus, it has an incubation period, meaning detection is not always possible because symptoms have not appeared yet.
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 elsewhere which could have been spread through human-to-human transmission.
What are countries doing to prevent the spread?
Countries in Asia have stepped up airport surveillance. They include Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines.
Australia and the US are also screening patients for a high temperature, and the UK announced it will screen passengers returning from Wuhan.
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
He said: ‘There’s a lot of information flying around. There’s posts flying around group chats and no one really knows what’s going on. That’s the main frustration.
‘I’ve been holed up for the last maybe three days. On the first day I started out to the supermarket and got a good few things to keep m tied over for the foreseeable eight or nine days, but I’m going to consider perhaps going out again.
‘I know a few others who are venturing out most days just to go to the shops or to the supermarket to see if they can restock on supplies and things.’
Fifty-two UK patients have already been tested for coronavirus. NHS staff have also been briefed on how to handle corpses infected with the lethal Chinese virus after it was revealed it had spread to three locations in France over the weekend.
The dossier published by Public Health England warns that the virus – which has stricken two in Paris and another in Bordeaux – is ‘accelerating’. Five cases of the unnamed coronavirus have now been recorded in both the US and Australia, and Canada announced its first case over the weekend.
PHE’s document obtained by The Sunday Times advises: ‘The act of moving a recently deceased patient onto a hospital trolley for transportation to the mortuary might be sufficient to expel small amounts of air from the lungs and thereby present a minor risk.
‘A body bag should be used for transferring the body and those handling the body at this point should use full PPE [personal protective equipment].’ Furthermore, medics meeting any potentially infected people should wear ‘full-face visors’, while GPs should avoid contact with patients and place them into immediate quarantine.
Despite the strict guidance to try to contain the virus, one British teacher who has spent the last decade in Wuhan fears he may be spreading the virus throughout the UK because he claims he was given the wrong advice by an NHS 111 operator.
David Marland lived just five minutes from the seafood market thought to be at the centre of the outbreak in Wuhan. He told The Telegraph that he called the helpline as soon as he stepped off a plan at Gatwick Airport from Dubai, via Hong Kong and the Chinese city of Shenzhen, last week.
But instead of being hauled in for tests in isolation, the 34-year-old alleges that he was only asked if he had the ‘sniffles’ and to only call back if he began to feel unwell – even though it has since been revealed that patients can be infectious without showing any symptoms.
Mr Marland, from Buckinghamshire, said: ‘I’m potentially a risk to other people. I’m still within the two-week period so I could be spreading the disease everywhere without having any symptoms… Maybe I should be staying away from people, but no one has told me to. They haven’t given me any advice at all. I’m just getting on with my life – what else am I supposed to do?’
He accused the NHS operator of just ‘ticking boxes’ and ‘leaving the door open’ to the killer virus. But NHS sources told The Telegraph that the operator had correctly followed advice – which comes from Public Health England and says to ring if you ‘develop a fever, difficulty breathing or a cough’.