'It is not a time to panic' says Leeds professor amid concern over coronavirus cases contracted in the UK

A professor in Microbiology at the University of Leeds has said it is "not a time to panic" despite a likely increase in the number of UK coronavirus cases in the next few weeks.

Experts have raised concerns over the possibility of "low level" community spread of coronavirus after it emerged that three of the latest cases were contracted in the UK.

While a majority of current cases in Britain are among people who had travelled to hotspots linked to the virus, England's chief medical officer confirmed three of the latest cases became infected in the UK.

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Professor Chris Whitty said: "It is not yet clear whether they contracted it directly or indirectly from an individual who had recently returned from abroad.

A professor in Microbiology says it is "not a time to panic" (Photo: Michael Cooper/PA Wire)

"This is being investigated and contact tracing has begun."

Scientists welcomed the news that contact tracing was taking place but raised concerns over "low level" transmission of the virus in Britain.

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Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor at the University of Leeds, and chairman of the Microbiology Society's Virology Division, said: "We are continuing to see new cases predominantly imported or linked to cases imported from high risk regions of the globe. It is encouraging that these are being identified, isolated and treated in a timely fashion.

"However, it remains a concern that cases of unknown origin are continuing to be identified. This suggests that there could be, albeit low level, local transmission within the UK resulting from an unknown source, but it could also be the case that contact tracing will rapidly identify the origin of these infections.

"It is right to be concerned and prepared, but it is not a time to panic. The number of cases remains small compared to the UK population and the current strategy of containment is working by and large.

"Nevertheless, we can probably expect to see an increase in the number of cases in the forthcoming days and weeks; the question is whether cases of unknown origin may start to become more significant."

Officials have confirmed three cases of coronavirus in West Yorkshire - two patients from Leeds who became infected while travelling to Iran and a third case, a woman from Ilkley, who picked up the virus in Italy.

Isolation pods have now been introduced at Leeds General Infirmary, St James's Hospital and Wharfedale Hospital to treat coronavirus patients.

The pods are intended to prevent the spread of the virus should further outbreaks occur in Leeds.