Coronavirus: British government calls for calm after eight schools closed

Germany says it is heading for epidemic as France has second death and Greece has first case

Protesters hold signs outside the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong as the financial secretary Paul Chan announced a relief package in a city battered by political unrest and the coronavirus. Photograph: Roy Liu/Bloomberg.

Protesters hold signs outside the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong as the financial secretary Paul Chan announced a relief package in a city battered by political unrest and the coronavirus. Photograph: Roy Liu/Bloomberg.

 

The British government has sought to calm fears over the spread of the coronavirus after at least eight schools closed and a US firm in London sent its 300 staff home after one of its directors was suspected of contracting the virus.

Health secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons on Wednesday that the government was taking all necessary measures to minimise the risk to the public.

“We have put in place enhanced monitoring measures at UK airports, and health information is available at all international airports, ports and international train stations. We have established a supported isolation facility at Heathrow to cater for international passengers who are tested, and to maximise infection control and free up NHS resources,” he said.

A total of 7,132 people in the UK have been tested for the virus with 13 found to be positive, of whom eight have now been discharged from hospital.

Mr Hancock said more cases were likely and the government had published guidance for schools, employers, first responders and the travel industry on how to handle suspected cases. But he cautioned against a premature or excessive response to fears about the virus, particularly in schools.

Travelers wear face masks after in Paris at Gare de Lyon railway station. Photograph: Laura Stevens/Bloomberg.
Travelers wear face masks after in Paris at Gare de Lyon railway station. Photograph: Laura Stevens/Bloomberg.

“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,” he said.

Self-isolation

About 160 British holidaymakers at a hotel in Tenerife have been told they will have to remain there under quarantine for two weeks.

It follows four confirmed cases of Covid-19 among guests at the hotel. All four are Italian, and travelled together to the island on February 17th. One of the party, a doctor believed to be in his late 60s, was feeling unwell and on Monday last presented himself to the Quiron Clinic in Adeje. He was tested as positive for Covid-19, and isolated and transferred to the Candelaria hospital in the north of the island. On Tuesday, his wife was confirmed to have tested positive for the virus too and on Wednesday two more from their party of 10 tested positive. The remaining six members of the group tested negative.

Team leader of the joint mission between the World Health Organisation (WHO) and China on covid-19, Bruce Aylward shows graphics during a press conference in Geneva on February 25th, 2020. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images.
Team leader of the joint mission between the World Health Organisation (WHO) and China on covid-19, Bruce Aylward shows graphics during a press conference in Geneva on February 25th, 2020. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images.

The Irish Embassy in Madrid was unable to say how many Irish are currently in the H-10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel, but they did confirm that they were offering consular assistance to those inside.

Meanwhile, Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow is in self-isolation in Britain after returning from Iran, where 12 people have died after contracting the virus. BBC Radio 4 presenter Nick Robinson has said he is also in self-isolation at home after returning from a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia.

The number of new infections inside China – the source of the outbreak – was for the first time overtaken by those elsewhere. Asia reported hundreds of new cases, Brazil confirmed South America’s first infection and Covid-19 also hit Pakistan, Greece and Algeria.

US health authorities, managing 59 cases so far, have said a global pandemic is likely but president Donald Trump accused two TV channels of “doing everything possible to make [the coronavirus] look as bad as possible, including panicking markets”.

The disease is believed to have originated in a market selling wildlife in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700, the vast majority in China.

Two tourists wear a protective mask in Milan on Wednesday. Photograph: Ourad Balti Touati/EPA
Two tourists wear a protective mask in Milan on Wednesday. Photograph: Ourad Balti Touati/EPA

While radical quarantining measures have helped to slow the rate of transmission in China, elsewhere it is accelerating. Germany, which has around 20 cases, said it was already impossible to trace all chains of infection, and health minister Jens Spahn urged regional authorities, hospitals and employers to review their pandemic planning.

A second person infected with the coronavirus died in France on Wednesday.

In Italy, the number of cases nationwide jumped by almost 100 in a day to more than 400, while the death toll rose to 12 since last Friday.

A Greek woman who recently returned home from northern Italy became Greece’s first coronavirus case and was being closely monitored.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said China had reported 411 new cases on Tuesday – against the 427 logged in 37 other countries. – Additional reporting: Reuters