Four cruise ship passengers who were flown back to the UK via Japan this weekend have tested positive for coronavirus.
The confirmation they have contracted the virus brings the number of people with Covid-19 in the UK up to 13.
Englands chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, said the patients caught the virus onboard the Diamond Princess. The cruise ship had been held for more than two weeks off the coast of Japan.
The patients are being transferred from Arrowe Park hospital in Wirral, Merseyside, to specialist NHS infection centres.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said a full infectious disease risk assessment was done before Saturdays flight back from Japan and stressed that no one who boarded the flight had displayed any symptoms of the virus.
A total of 32 passengers 30 British and two Irish citizens were taken to the Arrowe Park hospital after their plane touched down in England.
Janelle Holmes, chief executive at Wirral University Teaching Hospital, reassured staff that the hospital was running as usual.
When guests arrived yesterday evening, we followed clear guidance in relation to infection prevention control. This was to minimise the chance of any infection spreading, she said.
A number of other UK nationals who were onboard the Diamond Princess were evacuated to Australia. They included Northern Irish singer Rebecca Harkin who was part of the music entertainment team.
Harkin, who is from Derry but lives across the border in County Donegal, said she and her partner were healthy and safe but would remain in Australia for the next two weeks.
The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.
The UN agency advises people to:
- Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
- Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
- Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
- Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.
Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the outbreak of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection. There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces. The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit but not eliminate the risks, provided they are used correctly.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised UK nationals to leave China where possible. It is also warning that travellers from Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand who develop symptoms of cough or fever or shortness of breath within 14 days of returning the UK should contact the NHS by phone.
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The news of four new coronavirus cases came as more than 100 Britons who had been flown back from China ended their two-week quarantine in Milton Keynes.
The evacuees had been kept in isolation at Kents Hill Park hotel and conference centre from 9 February. The British nationals and their family members were treated there after travelling on an evacuation flight from the Chinese city of Wuhan the centre of the coronavirus outbreak.
One of the group allowed home on Sunday, Paul Walkinshaw, from Manchester, said he had been in China on holiday with his wife Lihong since the Chinese new year.
As he left the centre, Walkinshaw said: Since weve been quarantined, weve been treated brilliantly. It was definitely hard at first (inside the quarantine) it is just one of those things.
The 39-year-old praised the friendly staff and said he was looking forward to sleeping in his own bed again.
Matt Hancock , the health secretary, praised the evacuees for their patience and perseverance while NHS strategic incident director Prof Keith Willett thanked them for the very responsible compliance they have shown.