Coronavirus: Health Secretary says there is an "increased likelihood" of cases in UK

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said there is an "increased likelihood" of cases of the new coronavirus in the UK, but insisted the risk to the public remains low and the country is "well prepared".

In a Commons statement, he told MPs: "The chief medical officer has revised the risk to the UK population from 'very low' to 'low' and has concluded that while there is an increased likelihood that cases may arise in this country, we are well prepared and well equipped to deal with them."

Mr Hancock said: "The UK is one of the first countries to have developed a world-leading test for the new coronavirus.

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"The NHS is ready to respond appropriately to any cases that emerge.

The Chinese Government has effectively locked down Wuhan, cancelling planes and trains there and in the nearby city of Huanggang. Picture: APThe Chinese Government has effectively locked down Wuhan, cancelling planes and trains there and in the nearby city of Huanggang. Picture: AP
The Chinese Government has effectively locked down Wuhan, cancelling planes and trains there and in the nearby city of Huanggang. Picture: AP | other

"Clinicians both in primary and secondary care have already received advice covering initial detection and investigation of possible cases, infection prevention and control and clinical diagnostics."

He added: "We are working closely with our counterparts in the devolved administrations and the public can be assured that the whole of the UK is always well-prepared for these types of outbreaks.

"And we'll remain vigilant and keep our response under constant review in the light of emerging scientific evidence."

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Mr Hancock said travel advice has been updated recommending against "all but essential travel" to Wuhan city and Chinese visitors to the UK will be given advice on what to do if they fall ill during their trip.

He told MPs: "Since yesterday, Public Health England officials have been carrying out monitoring of direct flights from Wuhan city and all passengers on direct flights from China will receive information on what to do if they fall ill."

He added: "Acting on the advice of Professor Whitty (chief medical officer) we have updated our travel guidance to British citizens to advise against all but essential travel to Wuhan city."

In a statement, Avon and Somerset Police said: "At just before 7pm on Wednesday January 22, staff at the custody unit at Patchway police centre became aware of a detainee displaying flu-like symptoms.

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"There were initial concerns that the detainee, a Chinese national, may have had contact with people who had recently travelled from the Wuhan area of China.

"Following precautionary advice from the NHS and health practitioners, Patchway police centre was temporarily closed along with Trinity Road police station in Bristol, where officers involved in the arrest had travelled to.

"As well as the officers and members of police staff, there was one member of the public at Trinity Road police station, who was asked to remain in the building as a precaution while we sought further advice.

"Following expert advice from Public Health England, it was established this was not a case of the much-publicised novel coronavirus and both stations were fully re-opened at just after midnight.

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"The detainee has been given the appropriate medical attention and remains in custody at this time.

"All those involved in this incident have been given up-to-date advice from Public Health England and we'd like to thank the member of the public for their patience and understanding while we took this precautionary action.

"We'd like to assure our communities there is no risk to the public."

Mr Hancock said the Government "will not hesitate" to take further steps if necessary to protect Britons.

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Shadow health minister Sharon Hodgson said a passenger arriving from Wuhan on Wednesday reported he had "gone through virtually no screening at all but given a leaflet", asking if Mr Hancock had a response to this.

She also asked if flights from other Chinese cities would be monitored, to which Mr Hancock replied: "Currently the evidence suggests the vast majority of cases are in Wuhan.

"Obviously we keep that under constant review and we will not hesitate to take further steps if that's necessary to protect the British public."

Mr Hancock also said: "It's important that we get the enhanced monitoring right and the challenge here is symptoms for the Wuhan coronavirus do not usually appear until five to 10 days, sometimes up to 14 days, and therefore the advice is that the most important part of the monitoring is to ensure that everybody knows what to do if the symptoms arise."

The disease has killed 17 people and infected nearly 600.

Cases have been reported in the US, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong.