Two more cases of the killer coronavirus have today been confirmed in the UK in travellers who caught the virus in Europe amid an escalating crisis on the continent that has left Britain engulfed with fear.
Department of Health chiefs refused to confirm where in Britain each unidentified patient was diagnosed, but revealed one had caught the deadly virus in Italy and the other was infected in Tenerife.
It is believed to be likely that one of the cases is a parent of a child at Burbage Primary School in Derbyshire. The school closed today closed for a deep clean after the headteacher said a parent caught the killer coronavirus.
Officials refused to confirm if they were one of the two cases. Health chiefs revealed one of the patients has been quarantined at the Royal Liverpool Hospital while the other was taken to the Royal Free Hospital in London.
Fifteen cases of the deadly infection have now been confirmed on British soil – until today all of them had been linked to the Far East. The virus has yet to spread between humans in the UK.
Coronavirus chaos has gripped Britain, with the UK now waking up to the fact the outbreak is an impending crisis and no longer just an issue in Asia as cases in Italy continue to accelerate.
Growing fears have led to big businesses being shut down, sporting events postponed and families across the home nations stockpiling nappies and soup.
Health bosses have warned the public to expect more cases after yesterday, which saw the number of coronavirus infections around the world overtake China for the first time because of other outbreaks in South Korea and Iran.
Burbage Primary School in Buxton, Derbyshire, told parents and carers about the case last night. However, health chiefs have yet to confirm if it is correct
The school’s head Anthony Tierney was on site early this morning to deal with concerned parents. He confirmed that the gates would remain closed for the day. Pictured, the message that was sent to parents
Health chiefs revealed one of the patients has been quarantined at the Royal Liverpool Hospital (pictured)
The other patient was taken to the Royal Free Hospital in north London, one of a handful of specialist infectious disease centres in the UK
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF THE CORONAVIRUS?
The signs of COVID-19, the infection caused by the coronavirus, are often mild and are very similar to a cold, flu or chest infection.
Typical symptoms of infection include a fever, a cough, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
These are common complaints at this time of year, so where someone has travelled or who they have come into contact with are important in determining whether they might have coronavirus.
The NHS considers people to be at risk if they have the symptoms above and have recently travelled to mainland China, South Korea, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Macau, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, or the north of Italy (north of Pisa and Florence).
People who have, in the past two weeks, been to the Hubei province of China, Iran, the South Korean cities of Daegu or Cheongdo in South Korea, or one of 11 quarantined towns in northern Italy are considered to be at risk even if they feel well.
The 11 towns in Italy are Codogno, Castiglione d’Adda, Casalpusterlengo, Fombio, Maleo, Somaglia, Bertonico, Terranova dei Passerini, Castelgerundo, San Fiorano and Vo’ Euganeo.
Those who have come into contact with others who have visited those places and then feel ill may also be at risk.
People who fit any of the categories above should stay at home and self-isolate, away from other people, and phone NHS 111 for more advice. If you think you have the coronavirus do not go to a doctor’s surgery or hospital.
The virus can spread through coughing, sneezing, or by being close to someone for prolonged periods of time.
To protect themselves, people should cough and sneeze into a tissue and throw it away, wash their hands and avoid contact with sick people.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty confirmed the new cases today. He said: ‘Two further patients in England have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of UK cases to 15.
‘The virus was passed on in Italy and Tenerife and the patients have been transferred to specialist NHS infection centres in Royal Liverpool Hospital and the Royal Free Hospital, London.’
The two new cases were confirmed after parents of pupils at Burbage Primary School in Buxton, Derbyshire, were told the school would be closed on Thursday due to a ‘confirmed case of coronavirus amongst our parent population’.
Burbage Primary School, in Buxton, which has 350 pupils, sent a message to parents via WhatsApp on Wednesday night saying the decision had been taken as a ‘precautionary measure and to enable a deep clean to be completed’.
Across the UK, at least 13 schools have closed over fears of the virus spreading while at least 20 more have sent pupils and teachers home for a fortnight after coming down with colds and coughs after ski trips to coronavirus-hit Italy over half term.
Prince George and Princess Charlotte’s private school last night became the latest to send pupils home for coronavirus isolation. Four pupils at the Thomas’s Battersea school in southwest London were sent home and are awaiting test results.
But Public Health England (PHE) said that its general advice is not to close schools – a message echoed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock. However, some headteachers have taken evasive action and shut down schools after staff and students came down with ‘mild flu-like symptoms’ after returning from the Alps.
Travellers returning to the UK from northern Italy were told they may need to self-isolate as part of measures to stop the spread of illness.
So far in the UK more than 7,000 people have been tested for the virus and of the 15 to have tested positive, eight have so far been discharged from hospital.
In other developments to the escalating coronavirus crisis:
- The London Stock Exchange dropped to a new 13-month low and traders warned that the virus could lead to ‘anaemic global growth’
- Saudi Arabia banned religious pilgrims from visiting Mecca or Medina to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the Kingdom
- The Queen’s granddaughter Zara Phillips and her husband Mike Tindall will not self-isolate despite returning from virus-hit northern Italy last week
- Germany warned of the ‘start of an epidemic’ as Europe scrambles to contain a coronavirus outbreak spreading from Italy across the continent
- NHS chiefs launched a public coronavirus campaign telling people to wash their hands for 20 seconds before eating and after using public transport
- 160 British tourists trapped in a Tenerife hotel at the centre of coronavirus scare slammed the ‘absolutely awful’ response by the Government
- Cases of the killer coronavirus have now been recorded on every continent except Antarctica, after Brazil yesterday confirmed South America’s first infection
- Ireland’s rugby match against Italy on Saturday was postponed amid fears Italian fans could bring the virus to Dublin
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE 15 CASES IN THE UK?
Newcastle: Two Chinese nationals who came to the UK with coronavirus and fell ill while at a hotel in York. One was a student in the city and the other was his mother. They were the first two cases on British soil and were confirmed on January 31. They were treated at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary and have since been released.
Steve Walsh: The first British coronavirus victim became known as a super-spreader. He picked up the virus in Singapore and flew for a ski break in France afterwards where he appears to have infected at least 11 people. He was taken to St Thomas’ Hospital in London from Brighton on February 6 – but was released on February 12 after recovering.
Dr Catriona Saynor, who went on holiday with Mr Walsh and her husband, Bob, and their three children, is thought to be the fourth patient in the UK diagnosed with coronavirus. Her husband and nine-year-old son were also diagnosed but remained in France. She was taken to a hospital in London on February 9 from Brighton. She was thought to be at the Royal Free in Camden, but has since been released.
Four more people in Brighton were diagnosed and were all ‘known contacts’ of the super-spreader and are thought to have stayed in the same French resort. One is known to be an A&E doctor and is believed to have worked at Worthing Hospital. Another attended a bus conference in Westminster on February 6. They were all treated in London and have now been sent home.
London: The first case of the coronavirus in London brought the total number of cases in the UK to nine. The woman was diagnosed on February 12, after going to A&E in an Uber. She was then taken to St Thomas’ Hospital. She is thought to have flown into the UK from China the weekend before, with officials confirming she caught the virus there. She is still in hospital.
Merseyside: Four out of 32 people who were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan were diagnosed with the virus when they got home, on Sunday January 23. They are thought to have been taken to the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, which is close to Arrowe Park Hospital where the other 28 passengers are in quarantine.
Two more cases: Department of Health officials confirmed two more cases on February 27 in travellers who returned to Britain from Tenerife and Italy. No further details were given.
The decision to close Burbage Primary School had been taken as a ‘precautionary measure’, according to a WhatsApp message sent to parents by headteacher Anthony Tierney.
The message read: ‘Dear parents and carers, due to a confirmed case of coronavirus amongst our parent population, Burbage Primary School will be CLOSED tomorrow (Thursday 27 February 2020) as a precautionary measure and to enable a deep clean to be completed.
‘A further update will be shared tomorrow. Thank you.’
School bosses emphasised that the decision had been taken for the safety and protection of children and teachers so that the school can be cleaned.
But an appeal by the school, which has 347 pupils and 49 members of staff, for people not to share the information was met with some anger and dismay.
Mr Tierney was on site early this morning to deal with concerned parents. He confirmed that the gates would remain closed for the day. ‘We are shut, it is just a precaution,’ he said. ‘I can’t say anything more at the moment.’
Professor Whitty yesterday admitted that school closures are a future possibility if the coronavirus takes hold in the UK, after Mr Hancock said they don’t need to shut for suspected cases.
Contradictory messages from the government have led to widespread confusion and caused headteachers to take matters into their own hands and defy official advice.
Panicked parents of children at Burbage Primary School took to social media after receiving the message which was sent out just before 11pm last night.
Many complained about the lack of a full explanation as to whether the infected parent has actually been on the school premises.
Tim Stubbs posted: ‘My daughter goes to the school. I can confirm that the school have put out the message to parents. They have also asked people not to post hysterical messages on social media.’
On Facebook Brendan McGrath criticised the online speculation: ‘It may be precautionary and the parent may not have been on the premises but has a child at the school who has been exposed to the virus.
‘The virus is transmittable before any symptoms are shown so to give no context or further explanation is irresponsible!!’
Passengers from China Southern Airlines flight CZ319 arrive at Perth International Airport earlier this month with protective masks
People with masks walking in the still semi-deserted streets of the Coronavirus psychosis centre. Towns and Cities in Italy are in lockdown as authorities race to contain the biggest outbreak of coronavirus in Europe
People pictured wearing masks for fear of contagion from Coronavirus. Many people seem to have now incorporated the masks into their everyday lives
A health worker screens the temperature of a passenger arriving from Milan Bergamo to Krakow International Airport on February 26
AS Roma fans wearing face masks inside the stadium before the match amid concern following a coronavirus outbreak in Italy
Travellers to and from Britain are in limbo about whether they should cancel their business or holiday travel for fear of being exposed to the killer virus sweeping the globe.
A man is pictured wearing a face mask on the London Underground as UK officials step up their preparations for cases of coronavirus to start appearing on British soil
NHS to extend home testing for coronavirus to stop it spreading
The NHS is looking to extend home testing for coronavirus, while a new public information campaign will be launched, Matt Hancock has announced.
The Health Secretary also urged schools not to close unless they had a confirmed case of the virus.
The NHS has already started pilots of home testing for coronavirus in London, where nurses and paramedics visit people with symptoms in their own homes rather than them needing to travel, which risks spreading the virus.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hancock suggested that home testing will be rolled out more widely, to complement existing hospital testing and the ‘isolation pods’ which have been sited at hospitals in England for people who turn up at A&E with symptoms.
He said: ‘We now have testing sites at all A&E facilities, as far as we know, across England.
‘But we’re also planning to introduce home testing and some of this has started already so that people don’t have to go to the pods in front of A&E which have been put there to ensure that people don’t actually go into A&E where they might infect others.
‘Home testing is the safest place to be tested because then you don’t have to go anywhere, and that will allow us to roll out testing to a much larger number of people as well.’
But Sarah Cartwright replied: ‘What context is missing? Parent infected, their kids at the school. Virus can infect without symptoms early on. School closes to get cleaned. What’s missing?’
Lisa Saffy Ward criticised the speculation about the seriousness of the situation before any further details were released.
‘I feel for the staff and headmaster who will have to deal with the members of the public who are now worrying over precautionary measures,’ she wrote.
But Connor Burden replied: ‘Why shouldn’t they worry? It’s contagious before symptoms show. If the parent has it then likely the child/children do also.’
Members of Derbyshire County Council’s emergency planning team were called into the authority’s headquarters in Matlock early to deal with the issue.
Several schools around the UK have closed over fears pupils and staff members may have been exposed to coronavirus after travelling abroad during the half-term break.
Others have sent pupils and staff home, as the illness continues to spread across Europe.
But Public Health England (PHE) says it is not advising schools to shut to stem the spread of the virus.
PHE’s medical director Prof Paul Cosford acknowledged schools had to take ‘difficult decisions given the complexity of the issues that they’re facing’.
‘Of course, schools have difficult decisions to take – a whole range of issues to take into account and we are able to talk to them about their specific circumstances and help them make the right decisions for them,’ he said.
‘But what I would say is that our general advice is not to close schools.’
Zara Phillips and her husband will not self-isolate despite returning from virus-hit northern Italy last week.
The Queen’s granddaughter and partner Mike Tindall have reportedly opted not to quarantine themselves because they are not showing symptoms.
They have returned from a ski trip in Bormio, Lombardy – one of Italy’s worst-hit regions.
Mr Tindall – a former England rugby player – shared several photos of their trip last week.
Mike Tindall posted the above picture of him and Zara to Instagram after the couple enjoyed their holiday
‘Come and rescue us, Boris!’ British tourists trapped in Tenerife hotel at centre of coronavirus scare slam ‘absolutely awful’ response – but panic doesn’t stop some holidaymakers making the most of their time in the sun
Some guests chose to stay in their rooms. Others put on their face masks and decided to relax by the hotel’s swimming pool.
The two approaches were just one sign of the confusion and frustration facing a group of British holidaymakers being contained in a Tenerife hotel for two weeks.
Sunbathing in masks: Tourists in bikinis and face masks lounge by the pool of H10 Costa Adeje Palace as they settle in for a two-week lockdown after Spanish authorities confirmed a quarantine
The hotel laid on free champagne for tourists today after guests were told they would have to stay put at the resort until mid-March
NHS CAMPAIGN TO TELL PEOPLE TO WASH THEIR HANDS 20 SECONDS BEFORE EATING AND AFTER USING PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Patients with suspected coronavirus will be tested in their own homes in a bid to contain the outbreak.
They will be ordered to stay indoors and wait for a paramedic or nurse rather than risk infecting dozens of people at hospital or on their way there.
In a further sign that the NHS is preparing for a pandemic, more staff are being recruited to the 111 helpline, which is the first port of call for suspected victims.
Officials fear a sudden surge in cases in the UK because the virus is now spreading faster outside China, the country it started in.
A public awareness campaign will be launched next week urging Britons to regularly wash their hands for 20 seconds.
Messages will go out on social media and radio stations encouraging handwashing on arrival at work, after using public transport and before food.
Frustrated guests pleaded with Boris Johnson to intervene yesterday and said they were desperate to return home amid a chaotic attempt to control corona virus from spreading within the Costa Adeje Palace Hotel.
At least 160 Britons have been holed up in the four-star resort after the Spanish authorities padlocked its doors when four guests from Italy tested positive.
Yesterday they told of the ‘absolutely awful’ situation and said they had been given conflicting information about how long the enforced stay would last.
And, as the Foreign Office began contacting them last night telling them they must remain at the hotel until March 10, some complained that staying put placed them at increased risk.
Mandy Davis, who is on holiday with her husband Roger, said: ‘Nobody knows what the right thing to do is, because nobody’s had this virus before.
‘So please, let’s sort something out, come and rescue us please, Boris. And let’s just get the hell out of here.’
Rosie Mitford, who is on holiday with her father and brother, only arrived at the hotel on Monday when the four Italians who tested positive had already left.
The 18-year-old nursing student said: ‘We want to come home now. We don’t see the point of staying here for two weeks when none of us have symptoms and then isolating when we get back.’
The family group were preparing for a reprieve last night when authorities on the Canary Islands said that a group of more than 100 recent arrivals could be allowed to go home.
Closed: The H10 Costa Adeje Palace is being guarded by police. Guests were confined to their bedrooms at the four-star hotel in a desperate attempt to stop the virus from spreading
Employees wearing protective masks arrange water bottles in the lobby of the hotel
Two hotel guests wearing masks wave from the window of the Tenerife resort today where holidaymakers will have to stay put for 14 days
British couple David Hoon and Pamela Scott (pictured together) say they fear that ‘we stand more chance of catching the coronavirus’ during the hotel lockdown
Mixed messages: How advice from Public Health England and government’s chief medical officer differ
What Public Health England says:
‘Our general advice is not to close schools. What we are clear about is if you have been in the area of northern Italy of concern and you have symptoms – it is a cough, shortness of breath or fever – then you do need to self-isolate, you need to phone NHS 111 and await advice for further assessment or testing’
What Health Secretary Matt Hancock says:
‘If anyone has been in contact with a suspected case in a childcare or an educational setting, no special measures are required while test results are awaited. There is no need to close the school or send other students or staff home. Once the results arrive, those who test negative will be advised individually about returning to education. In most cases, closure of the childcare or education setting will be unnecessary, but this will be a local decision based on various factors including professional advice.’
What England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty says:
‘There’s no secret there’s a variety of things you need to look at, you look at things like school closures, you look at things like reducing transport.’
What schools say:
Lime Academy Watergall in Bretton, Peterborough, has closed the school to give it a deep clean as they have a family who has recently returned from Northern Italy.
A statement on the school’s website says: ‘We have taken advice from Public Health England as we have had a family who have recently returned from Northern Italy. Although they are currently showing no symptoms we have been advised to closed with immediate effect in order for us to undergo a deep clean.’
Spanish officials have begun tracking down guests who may have come into contact with the infected quartet before returning to their homes across Europe.
Guests holed up at the 500-room property told of the shambolic arrangements inside as they faced two-weeks of quarantine.
Holidaymakers with babies described how they had unsuccessfully pleaded with the hotel for suitable food, while being left without essential products such as nappies.
In the UK, family members said they were concerned about the welfare of elderly relatives at the property.
Guests were initially told to ‘stay calm’ and stay in their rooms yesterday morning as medical teams in protective suits handed out face masks and thermometers, then carried out medical checks.
Guests have been told to take their temperature twice a day.
The curfew was dropped shortly afterwards and more than 260 guests were seen sun-lounging outside, some in face masks, while others took to the swimming pools.
After more than 24 hours without hot food, the hotel provided a lunch buffet yesterday afternoon and laid on bottles of free Champagne. Images showed hungry guests clamouring for food.
Despite the curfew being relaxed, some guests decided to remain in their rooms and had breakfast brought to them.
Lara Pennington, 45, from Manchester, who is on holiday with her two sons and elderly in-laws, said: ‘It’s very scary because everyone is out, in the pool, spreading the virus.’
It has been reported that between 600 and 800 guests from 25 countries are at the hotel in the south-west of the island.
Because the containment measures affect guests’ liberty, a local judge will rule each day on whether to allow some to leave.
An Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘Our staff are in close contact with the hotel management and the Spanish authorities and have written to all British guests, and are in touch with anyone identified as vulnerable or in need.’
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE DEADLY CORONAVIRUS IN CHINA?
Someone who is infected with the coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.
Nearly 3,000 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 80,000 have been infected. Here’s what we know so far:
What is the coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.
The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.
Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.
The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.
Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals.
‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses).
‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’
The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.
By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.
The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000.
Just a week after that, there had been more than 800 confirmed cases and those same scientists estimated that some 4,000 – possibly 9,700 – were infected in Wuhan alone. By that point, 26 people had died.
By January 27, more than 2,800 people were confirmed to have been infected, 81 had died, and estimates of the total number of cases ranged from 100,000 to 350,000 in Wuhan alone.
By January 29, the number of deaths had risen to 132 and cases were in excess of 6,000.
By February 5, there were more than 24,000 cases and 492 deaths.
By February 11, this had risen to more than 43,000 cases and 1,000 deaths.
A change in the way cases are confirmed on February 13 – doctors decided to start using lung scans as a formal diagnosis, as well as laboratory tests – caused a spike in the number of cases, to more than 60,000 and to 1,369 deaths.
By February 25, around 80,000 people had been infected and some 2,700 had died. February 25 was the first day in the outbreak when fewer cases were diagnosed within China than in the rest of the world.
Where does the virus come from?
According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.
The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.
Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat.
A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.
However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.
Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.
‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’
So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it?
Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.
It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.
Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.
Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.
‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’
If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die.
‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.
‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’
How does the virus spread?
The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.
It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky.
Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.
There is now evidence that it can spread third hand – to someone from a person who caught it from another person.
What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?
Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.
If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.
In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.
Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why.
What have genetic tests revealed about the virus?
Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world.
This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.
Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.
However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.
This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.
More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.
How dangerous is the virus?
The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.
Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.
However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.
Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.
Can the virus be cured?
The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.
Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.
No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.
The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.
Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.
People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.
And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).
However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.
Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?
The outbreak is an epidemic, which is when a disease takes hold of one community such as a country or region.
Although it has spread to dozens of countries, the outbreak is not yet classed as a pandemic, which is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.
The head of WHO’s global infectious hazard preparedness, Dr Sylvie Briand, said: ‘Currently we are not in a pandemic. We are at the phase where it is an epidemic with multiple foci, and we try to extinguish the transmission in each of these foci,’ the Guardian reported.
She said that most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.