Coronavirus: Three more patients diagnosed in UK as number of cases reaches 23

Staff member at infant school in Berkshire among those who have tested positive for virus in Britain

Peter Stubley,Andy Gregory
Saturday 29 February 2020 15:10
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Coronavirus: What we know so far

Three more patients in England have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, including a staff member at an infant school, bringing the total in the UK to 23.

The new cases were confirmed in Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire and Berkshire, according to the Department of Health and Social Care. Two of the patients had recently returned from Italy and the other from Asia, said chief medical officer Chris Whitty.

Among the three new cases was a staff member at Willow Bank Infant School in Berkshire.

In an email to parents, headteacher Michelle Masters said: “The school will be shut for some days to allow for a deep clean and to ensure that the risk of infection remain(s) low.”

Health officials are investigating who has recently come into contact with the three new cases, while scrambling to find the source of the first transmission on British soil after a Surrey resident also tested positive for the virus on Friday.

Boris Johnson – who has been accused of being slow to respond to the outbreak – on Saturday set out his “battleplan”, which consists of drafting in retired doctors to bolster existing NHS staff numbers, providing healthcare workers with emergency indemnity coverage, and relaxing laws on the number of pupils allowed in school classrooms.

The prime minister’s plan comes after a British man who contracted coronavirus onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off Japan’s coast was confirmed as the first UK citizen to die from the virus.

Across the Atlantic, the first fatality on US soil was confirmed after a man in his fifties with underlying health problems died at a care facility in Washington, where two others were also found to have contracted the virus.

With seemingly crossed wires, Donald Trump referred to the deceased as “a wonderful woman”, and claimed his administration had taken “the most aggressive action in modern history to confront the spread of this disease”.

His vice president Mike Pence announced the US would follow Australia’s lead in stopping travellers from Iran entering the country, and upgraded its travel warnings for northern Italy and South Korea.

As Mr Trump faced awkward questioning about his claim that criticism of his response to the crisis was a Democrat “hoax”, it emerged that Mr Pence was allegedly attempting to stop health officials making statements on the virus without White House approval.

Award-winning immunologist Anthony Fauci said he had been forced to cancel some speaking appearances, with The New York Times reporting he had told associates he was instructed not to say anything else without clearance after warning it could be impossible to contain the virus.

Mr Pence’s announcement on Iran came after health workers told BBC Persian the true death toll could reach more than 210, despite the official toll sitting at 34.

Campaigners working to free Nazanin​ Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman detained in Iran, said it is suspected that she has contracted the virus in prison.

The Free Nazanin Campaign, which is run by Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe, criticised the “the lack of hygiene materials made available to the prisoners” in Iran’s Evin Prison, where she is being held, and urged Boris Johnson to ensure UK nationals detained there were protected.

It came as state media reported an Iranian MP had died of flu-like symptoms. Iran has not said whether his death was caused by coronavirus, but he had reportedly tested positive days earlier, when the minister overseeing the country’s response to the outbreak was also found to have contracted the virus.

Meanwhile, Ireland confirmed its first case, while the tally rose to more than 100 in France, where the government has banned gatherings of more than 5,000 people.

In South Korea, thought to be home to the largest outbreak outwith mainland China, the government urged residents to stay in their homes.

Britons trapped in the quarantined hotel in Tenerife, however, received better news, as Public Health England (PHE) told them they could return home if they tested negative for the virus. They had previously been told not to leave the hotel, which hosted four infected guests, until 10 March.

Boris Johnson on coronavirus

Travel company Tui said it would soon begin repatriating its customers, who PHE said would not be quarantined upon their return to the UK, but asked instead to self-isolate until 10 March.

The government also advised travellers from China, Iran, Italy, South Korea and Hong Kong to stay indoors and avoid contact with other people in the UK.

With the number of positive tests rising, the health department said it would only issue updates every 24 hours rather than whenever a case was confirmed.

“This is to make sure you get the latest information at the same time each day,” the department said.

More than 10,000 people have now been tested for coronavirus across the UK, with 21 positive results in England and one each in Wales and Northern Ireland.

There are more than 85,000 confirmed cases worldwide. Most of the 2,850 deaths have been in China, where the outbreak began last year.

Additional reporting by agencies

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