Man tested for symptoms linked to coronavirus in Belfast
WHO says it’s ‘too early’ to declare emergency as Scotland reports four suspected cases
Medical personnel wearing protective suits interact with two patients with the coronavirus in an isolation room at Cho Ray hospital in Ho Chi Minh City , Vietnam. Photograph: STR/Vietnam News Agency/AFP via Getty Images
Four people in Scotland are being tested for suspected coronavirus and another person is being treated for for symptoms associated with the illness in Belfast.
A man, who had recently arrived from China, presented at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast with symptoms which could be linked to the virus.
He was isolated as a precaution and is believed to be responding well to treatment.
The Belfast Health Trust said it could not comment due to patient confidentiality.
The news follows confirmation on Thursday that four people in Scotland are being tested for suspected coronavirus after travelling to the country from Wuhan, China.
Professor Jurgen Haas, the head of infection medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said he believes there will be many more cases from other cities in the UK.
Eighteen people have died, and more than 630 have been infected, mostly in China.
However, the emergency committee of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday evening it was “too early” to declare an international public health emergency over the coronavirus outbreak.
Prof Haas said three of the suspected cases in Scotland were in Edinburgh and the other was believed to be in Glasgow.
Tests are currently being carried out and none of the patients have been confirmed as having the disease.
They all travelled to Scotland from Wuhan, where the outbreak is thought to have originated, within the past two weeks and are showing symptoms of respiratory trouble, a red flag for the virus.
The WHO held a meeting of scientific experts on Thursday to consider whether a co-ordinated international response was required.
“It is a bit too early to consider that this is a public health emergency of international concern,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva, adding that the organisation’s Emergency Committee of 16 independent experts had been divided in its conclusion.
“Make no mistake, though, this is an emergency in China. But it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one.”
Chinese authorities moved to isolate three cities that are home to more than 18 million people in an unprecedented effort to contain the deadly new virus that has sickened hundreds and spread to other parts of the world during the busy Lunar New Year travel period.
Police, Swat teams and paramilitary troops guarded Wuhan’s railway station, where metal barriers blocked the entrances at 10am.
Only travellers holding tickets for the last trains out were allowed to enter.
Normally bustling streets, shopping centres, restaurants and other public spaces in the city of 11 million people were eerily quiet.
In addition to shutting down the railway station, authorities closed the airport and halted ferry, underground and bus service.
The city made no mention of a ban on private vehicles leaving but one resident told Reuters she could not drive out of the city because guards were blocking the entrance to a highway she hoped to drive on. Authorities have advised residents not to leave the city.
Authorities announced similar measures would take effect on Friday in the nearby cities of Huanggang and Ezhou.
In Huanggang, theatres, internet cafes and other entertainment centres were also ordered closed.
In the capital, Beijing, authorities cancelled “major events” indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of holiday celebrations, in order to “execute epidemic prevention and control”.
“To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science,” Gauden Galea, the WHO’s representative in China, said in an interview.
“It has not been tried before as a public health measure.
“We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work.”
The illnesses from the newly identified coronavirus first appeared last month in Wuhan, an industrial and transportation hub in central China’s Hubei province.
The vast majority of mainland China’s more than 570 cases have been in the city.
Other cases have been reported in the US, Japan, South Korea and Thailand.
Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Singapore and Hong Kong reported their first cases on Thursday.
Most illnesses outside China involve people who were from Wuhan or had recently travelled there.
Seventeen people have died, all of them in and around Wuhan. The oldest was 89, the youngest 48.
Images from Wuhan showed long queues and empty shelves at supermarkets, as residents stocked up for what could be weeks of isolation.
Lunar New Year
Local authorities in Wuhan demanded all residents wear masks in public places and urged government staff to wear them at work and shopkeepers to post signs for their visitors, Xinhua news agency reported.
Xinhua quoted the city’s anti-virus task force as saying the measures were taken in an attempt to “effectively cut off the virus spread, resolutely curb the outbreak and guarantee the people’s health and safety”.
The sharp rise in illnesses comes as millions of Chinese travel for the Lunar New Year, one of the world’s largest annual migrations of people.
Chinese are expected to take an estimated three billion trips during the 40-day spike in travel.
Analysts predicted cases will continue to multiply.
“Even if [cases] are in the thousands, this would not surprise us,” the WHO’s Dr Galea said, adding, however, that the number of those infected is not an indicator of the outbreak’s severity, so long as the mortality rate remains low.
The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as the Sars outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-03 and killed about 800 people, and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or Mers, which developed from camels.
Many countries are screening travellers from China for illness, especially those arriving from Wuhan.
Ireland’s Department of Health, relying on a previous assessment, described the risk of a case in Europe as low at present.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has advised Irish travellers that, while the risk of contracting the disease in China remains low, their travel could be disrupted by increased quarantine and containment measures there.
It says the Irish Embassy in China will continue to monitor the situation. – Additional reporting Reuters/Associated Press