The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said it’s “too early” to declare an international public health emergency over the coronavirus.
Nine people in the UK are currently awaiting test results after presenting with symptoms of the illness.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said:
Make no mistake, this is though an emergency in China.
But it has not yet become a global health emergency.
The body said there is evidence of transmission between people in close contact, such as families or those in health care settings. But it said it has not seen any evidence of onward transmission. None of the UK cases have been confirmed as the virus so far.
Advice from experts
Professor Jurgen Haas, head of infection medicine at the University of Edinburgh, told PA he believes there will probably be similar cases in other UK cities. He added that none of the cases he knew of had been confirmed.
Meanwhile, several experts say the new coronavirus appears to be less severe than its predecessors. Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said flu epidemics can kill tens of thousands, but previous new coronavirus outbreaks have led to fewer deaths.
For example, severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) killed about 800 people, while Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) led to about 450 deaths. Professor Hunter said:
All new outbreaks are worrying, especially in the early weeks when it is not clear how the outbreak could progress.
I think it unlikely that the Wuhan coronavirus will cause a major public health issue in the UK, in large part because of our existing health system.
Downing Street said four suspected cases in Scotland are believed to involve Chinese nationals. They all travelled to Scotland from Wuhan, where the outbreak is thought to have originated, within the past two weeks. And they are showing symptoms of respiratory trouble, a symptom of the virus.
The Chinese government has effectively locked down Wuhan, cancelling planes and trains there and in surrounding cities.
‘Ready to respond appropriately’
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was questioned about the risk to people in Scotland at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday. She said the situation is being closely monitored, adding:
I should say, that the risk to the public here in Scotland – and indeed the UK – is currently classified as low but that is kept under review.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS is “ready to respond appropriately” to any cases of coronavirus that emerge in the UK. He said:
The public can be assured that the whole of the UK is always well prepared for these type of outbreaks and we will remain vigilant and keep our response under constant review in light of emerging scientific evidence.
Officials from Public Health England have been monitoring direct flights from Wuhan city to the UK.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office updated its travel advice for China, advising against “all but essential travel” to Wuhan.
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