Edinburgh in coronavirus alert as three patients are tested at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary
At least five people in Scotland - including three Edinburgh - were last night undergoing assessments to establish whether they are suffering from a potentially deadly respiratory disease that is sweeping China as experts warned the disease is “very likely” to arrive in the UK.
Officials sources confirmed that five members of the public were being tested for the newly identified coronavirus, which has already killed at least 17 people.
It’s thought three of the patients are undergoing assessments in Edinburgh and another two in Glasgow.
The individuals being tested, one of whom is believed to be a student, had all travelled to Scotland from the Chinese city of Wuhan within the past two weeks.
They were admitted to hospital after showing symptoms of breathing trouble, a red flag for the virus.
“In any European countries there is a danger that these cases occur,” he said.
“Here at the University of Edinburgh we have more than 2,000 students from China and they are always coming and going back to China, so we are relatively sure we will have cases in the UK from travellers coming back from China.”
He says the situation would be “similar in pretty much all UK cities with a large number of Chinese students” and warned that the spread of the virus might increase as more people travelled around for Chinese New Year, which takes place on Saturday.
Thought to have spread to humans from contaminated animals sold as meat, it has already infected nearly 600 people in China and several cases have also been reported in Thailand, Japan, South Korea and the US.
It is similar to Sars, another coronavirus, which also originated in Asia and caused nearly 800 deaths globally in the early 2000s.
Two Chinese cities, Wuhan and Huanggang, have gone into lockdown in a bid to control the spread of the WN Co-V.
The new strain is thought to have emanated from a market in Wuhan, which has a population of 11 million and an international airport connecting to 60 destinations across the world.
Chinese authorities have suspended planes and trains in and out of the city, as well as all public transport within the city. Similar measures were due to take effect today in nearby Huanggang, which has a population of more than seven million.
She said the risk to the public in Scotland and the UK was currently low but this would be kept under review.
She added: “Health Protection Scotland are liaising with NHS boards and are currently in daily contact with Public Health England.
“We’re also liaising daily with colleagues in the UK Department of Health – we’re also paying very close attention to the advice and the decisions that come from the World Health Organisation.”
She told the Scottish Parliament that advanced monitoring measures were being put in place for flights between Wuhan City and London Heathrow that would involve each flight being met by a port health team who will check for coronavirus and provide information to all passengers.
She added: “We’re currently considering whether there is any further information that could be provided at Scottish airports. This is an evolving situation which we will monitor extremely closely.”
UK health secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS is “ready to respond appropriately” to any cases of coronavirus that emerge in the UK.
In a statement to the Commons yesterday, he said while “there is an increased likelihood that cases may arise in this country, we are well prepared and well equipped to deal with them”.
Officials from Public Health England have been monitoring direct flights from Wuhan city to the UK.
Under measures announced by the UK government on Wednesday, the planes would have been taken to an isolated area of Heathrow’s Terminal 4 after landing.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office updated its travel advice for China, advising against “all but essential travel” to Wuhan.
Mr Hancock said England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, is in contact with international experts and his counterparts to monitor the situation.
He added: “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.
“The UK is one of the first countries to develop a world-leading test for coronavirus, the NHS is ready to respond appropriately to any cases that emerge, clinicians in both primary and secondary care have already received advice covering initial detection and investigation of possible cases, infection control and diagnostics.
“The public can be assured that the whole of the UK is always well prepared for these type of outbreaks and we will remain vigilant and keep our response under constant review in light of emerging scientific evidence.”
At an emergency meeting last night, experts from the World Health Organisation opted not to declare a global public health emergency over the virus but said the situation would remain under review.
Scotland has recorded the first UK victims of other global virus oubreaks, including ebola in 2014 and the H1N1 swine flu pandemic of 2009