As coronavirus looms, we must keep sense of perspective – Angus Robertson

Tourists wear face masks to protect themselves from the virus as they visit Edinburgh Castle (Picture: Getty)Tourists wear face masks to protect themselves from the virus as they visit Edinburgh Castle (Picture: Getty)
Tourists wear face masks to protect themselves from the virus as they visit Edinburgh Castle (Picture: Getty) | 2020 Getty Images
Scotland’s health service is preparing to fight the coronavirus if it arrives and we should follow their advice, writes Angus Robertson.

Scotland has been spared from coronavirus so far – however, the country’s chief medical officer says it is “highly likely” that a patient will test positive at some point. The warning by Dr Catherine Calderwood comes as eight people have tested positive elsewhere in the UK and the Department of Health in England says that coronavirus presents “a serious and imminent threat” to public health.

The UK Government has announced new quarantine powers to keep infected people away from the public and reduce the risks of further transmission. This follows the case of an airline passenger from China threatening to abscond from isolation.

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Now the Royal Infirmary of ­Edinburgh and the Glasgow Royal Infirmary have created new facilities with laboratories that will begin testing. So far 41 people have tested negative for coronavirus in Scotland. Updated advice and information has been issued by NHS Lothian, with full details available on their website. ­Governments and the health service here, including NHS Lothian, have been escalating their planning and preparation in case of a more ­widespread outbreak.

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According to the advice, if you have travelled from Wuhan or Hubei province to the UK in the last 14 days you should stay indoors, avoid contact with others and immediately phone your GP or NHS 24 on 111 out of hours, even if you do not have symptoms of the virus. Coronavirus presents with respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath and cough or sore throat, with or without fever.

We may be far from the Chinese ­epicentre of the outbreak, but in this age of global travel we are only a 12-hour flight away. In China, more than 40,000 people have become infected, while nearly 190,000 people are under observation. The death toll has risen to more than 900. While the number of casualties is a record, the number of newly infected people per day has stabilised.

Internationally, cases have been reported in 27 countries and there are growing concerns about people contracting the virus who have not been to China. After declaring the outbreak a global emergency, the head of the World Health Organisation has warned that person-to-person transmission outside China could be the “tip of the iceberg”.

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While the coronavirus outbreak is a matter of serious concern we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are confronted every year with viral infections like influenza.

Not long ago, Scotland suffered record high winter deaths, with flu and pneumonia being the key underlying factors. Vaccination is the best line of defence against flu and is free in Scotland for all eligible adults, including everybody aged 65 and older.

The comparison with flu risks has been made by Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, who said: “Our estimates – while subject to much uncertainty due to the limited data currently available – suggest that the impact of the unfolding epidemic may be comparable to the major influenza pandemics of the 20th century.”

As public health officials here make the necessary preparations, let’s wish them well and follow all necessary advice. Understanding the risks is key to combating the threat as is a sense of perspective that we already deal with viral infections.