Coronavirus: Scots warned to 'expect' outbreak of disease
Scots are being warned to brace themselves for an “expected” outbreak of deadly coronavirus as the disease continues to spread across the globe.
The warning comes after Scotland’s chief medical officer cautioned that major sporting events, rock concerts and other large public gatherings could be banned across the nation in a bid to contain the virus, known as Covid-19.
The announcement follows an emergency meeting to assess preparations for dealing with an outbreak in Scotland, sparked by a spike in cases in northern Italy and other parts of the world.
Risk remains low
Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman, who attended the meeting, said: “Though the risk to individuals remains low, and all test results have come back negative so far, the chief medical officer has advised that it is highly likely that we will see a positive case in Scotland as coronavirus continues to spread.
“We are expecting an outbreak and are working hard to ensure we have plans in place to contain it as best we can.
“The NHS and Health Protection Scotland have an established plan to respond to anyone who becomes unwell.”
She said Scotland was “well-prepared for a significant outbreak of coronavirus”, although preventing its spread would be vital since there is currently no treatment or vaccine.
Meanwhile, schools could be shut, whole families quarantined and transport reduced if coronavirus becomes a global pandemic, England’s chief medical officer has warned.
Professor Chris Whitty said yesterday that a number of contingency plans are in place if the virus spreads throughout the country, depending on the scale of infection.
Public health emergency
The virus has been declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organisation, which has warned the spread of the virus has the potential to become a pandemic –although it has not reached that stage yet.
UK chief medical officers have raised the risk to the public from low to moderate.
This permits the government to plan for all eventualities. The risk to individuals remains low.
Fears over the virus have left the Six Nations rugby tournament in chaos due to the threat of contamination through international travel.
Ireland’s match against Italy, due to be held in Dublin this weekend, looks set to be called off after Italian authorities enforced lockdowns in 11 towns in northern parts of the country.
Britons who have been in locked down regions – including Lombardy and Veneto – are being told to self-isolate at home for 14 days even if they have no symptoms.
The advice comes as the UK’s Department of Health added Iran, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and parts of northern Italy to the list of places where travellers need to follow clinical advice.
The illness, which originated in Wuhan in China, has so far claimed more than 2,700 lives worldwide and infected at least 80,420 people.
To date 13 cases have been confirmed in the UK, including four passengers who were flown home after contracting the illness on a Japanese cruise ship.
Nobody in Scotland has so far tested positive for the virus.
As well as China, South Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy have been particularly badly affected.
Increasing numbers of infections are being reported in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, while cases have also been identified in Austria and Croatia.
There have been ten deaths so far in Italy and a further 322 infections.
Both Scotland’s men’s and women’s teams flew to the country last week to play matches in the Six Nations tournament.
The women’s fixture, due to be held near Milan, was called off in response to an escalating threat from the illness.
A spokesman for Scotland’s national rugby team said: “Scottish Rugby is closely monitoring the overall situation and its senior medical staff are in dialogue with relevant health professionals to keep abreast of the latest developments.
“All our national teams have been given specific instruction regarding their health, given their recent travels to Italy, in line with the public health advice communicated by the Scottish Government.
“A briefing to all Scottish Rugby staff has also been distributed today giving information and health advice.”
The Six Nations saw similar disruption during an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001.
Scotland’s chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood said the government and NHS were working on “containment first” and then a range of measures to try to limit the number of people infected in any outbreak.
She said deaths from Covid-19, which has an estimated fatality rate of 1 or 2 per cent, appear to be more common in elderly people and those with conditions such as asthma or cancer.
She said: “We have been planning now for many weeks for the inevitability of any case in Scotland and that preparedness has started with our NHS but we now have stepped up our
Scottish Government resilience unit so that we have plans put in place for across all of our country beyond our healthcare system.”
Although no cases have been identified in Scotland so far, health regulations have been updated, requiring doctors to inform health boards about any cases of the disease.
Patient information must be shared “if they have reasonable grounds to suspect a person they are attending has coronavirus”, according to the guidance.
Travellers returning to the UK from the worst-hit areas are being advised to self-quarantine for 14 days, even if they do not show any symptoms.
Dr Calderwood said early detection is very important in limiting cross-contamination from the disease.
She said: “At the moment, what we’re trying to do is to contain the virus and stop it spreading to other people so it’s very important people listen to the advice that if they have returned from one of the at-risk countries they isolate themselves if they symptoms and seek help either from their GP or out of hours by phoning NHS24 on 111.”
A total of 6,795 people have been tested across the UK, including 412 in Scotland.
The main signs of infection are fever and a cough as well as shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
Catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue and binning it, as well as frequent hand-washing, avoiding close contact with people who are ill and not touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands can all help cut the risk of infection.