‘This is your LAST chance to get out of Wuhan’: Foreign Office issues final call for Britons wanting to leave coronavirus-hit Chinese city
- British citizens may still be able to fly home on other countries’ evacuations
- Wuhan is still on lockdown and people are almost unable to travel in or out
- Two groups of Britons have already flown home from the city are in isolation
The UK Foreign Office has issued its final call for British citizens wanting to escape from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the centre of the coronavirus outbreak.
Officials said there would be more flights home later this week – arranged by other countries – and that these could be people’s last chance to leave.
Anyone in the Hubei province who wants to come home to the UK should get in touch with the Foreign Office to try and make arrangements, a spokesman said.
There have been two flights so far, which have brought a total of 94 Britons home from the disease crisis zone.
None of those returning have yet been diagnosed with the Wuhan coronavirus but all are still in isolation at a hospital in Merseyside.
One man, who had missed the first flight back to the UK, became ill on the second, on Sunday, and was taken to hospital. But he claims to have since recovered.
Meanwhile, more than 20,000 people in China have been diagnosed with the illness and 427 have died worldwide – including in Hong Kong and the Philippines.
Anthony May-Smith developed a cough and sore throat on the second repatriation flight out of the outbreak’s epicentre Wuhan on Sunday and was taken to hospital in isolation
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, pictured on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, and the Foreign Office said that as the outbreak goes on it may become more difficult to get people out of China
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who spoke with other G7 leaders yesterday, said ‘this is a marathon, not a sprint’
Speaking after a G7 meeting yesterday, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in Parliament: ‘Currently the number of cases is doubling around every five days and it’s clear that the virus will be with us for at least some months to come.
‘This is a marathon, not a sprint.’
The UK Government is not believed to be planning any more of its own flights from Wuhan to Britain, but it said other countries will be operating flights this week.
The first British mission, which landed on Thursday last week, took difficult negotiations with the Government in Beijing to get done – permission was denied for the first plan.
A total of 83 people out of an expected 200 made it onto that plane, which was in part blamed on the short notice people were given to get to the airport.
The Boeing 747 left with just 110 passengers on board, plus crew, when 27 other European citizens were allowed to board and be flown back to Spain.
The second flight was one put on by the French government, which allowed seven British citizens and four of their non-British family members to travel back.
It is not known how many British people are still in Wuhan, where there is no public transport, no traffic and no commercial flights in or out.
Government ministers warned at the weekend that, as the outbreak deepens and transport links inside China are cut off, they may lose their ability to rescue people.
On Sunday they said: ‘In the event that the situation deteriorates further, the ability of the British embassy and consulates to provide assistance to British nationals from within China may be limited.’
None of the dozens of people who have flown home from China have yet turned out to be ill with the coronavirus.
Anthony May-Smith, from Lichfield, Staffordshire, developed a cough and sore throat on the French-run flight out of Wuhan on Sunday.
He was isolated from the rest of the passengers and rushed to an NHS hospital in Oxford when the plane landed at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire at 8pm.
Mr May-Smith claims he ‘feels fine’ now but is being kept in isolation while medics await his test results.
He told Sky News yesterday: ‘When we boarded the plane in France to come to the UK, the nurse asked if any of us had had any symptoms.
‘I made myself known to her and she told me to sit away from anybody else on the flight.
‘There were people with babies on the flight and I obviously just didn’t want to be anywhere near them.
‘I feel fine now, I think it’s probably the stress of getting back and being run down more than anything. I’m waiting for the test results to come back tomorrow.’
Mr May-Smith said it is ‘a little bit daunting’ when medics enter his room as they wear a face mask, are ‘all covered up, [have] four pairs of gloves and wellingtons’.
The UK last week chartered a plane from Spanish airline Wamos to bring 83 UK citizens back to the RAF Brize Norton airfield in Oxfordshire
Passengers had flown overnight and landed in the UK at around 1pm on Thursday, January 30
They were taken by bus to a hospital in Merseyside, where they will spend the next two weeks. The bus drivers who took them did not wear protective gear, despite being accompanied by medics in full hazmat suits
More than 90 people are now being held at Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral, Merseyside, for at least two weeks to see if they develop symptoms of coronavirus
Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said officials were ‘working tirelessly on the ground in China to make sure we can get the information to those that need it’.
The Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, has borne the brunt of the coronavirus outbreak, recording 13,500 of the 20,000 infections and 414 of the 427 deaths.
UK citizens who were staying in the area said the atmosphere had darkened in recent weeks since the city went into lockdown.
Dr Qiaoling Zhou, an NHS registrar who works in Bristol, emailed MailOnline from her parents’ house near the centre of the outbreak.
She said: ‘On 23rd January Wuhan and a few cities affiliated to the Hubei Province were locked down, and within the next few days, the lockdown was expanded both in territories and details.
‘Citizens were not allowed to go out of their doors, more and more shops were closed including petrol stations, vegetable supermarkets, etc.
‘At the moment, citizens have access to rice and dry food.
‘I started to worry as the longer I stay, the more food I eat out of my elderly parents’ food store
‘With the number of infected people rising everyday, I am not sure how long I am going to be stuck here.’
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE DEADLY CORONAVIRUS IN CHINA?
Someone who is infected with the Wuhan coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.
At least 427 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 20,000 have been infected in at least 26 countries and regions. But experts predict the true number of people with the disease could be 100,000, or even as high as 350,000 in Wuhan alone, as they warn it may kill as many as two in 100 cases. Here’s what we know so far:
What is the Wuhan 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 is currently named 2019-nCoV, and does not have a more detailed name because so little is known about it.
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 seeing 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.
Where does the virus come from?
Nobody knows for sure. 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 the virus in Wuhan came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in the city, 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.
Bats are a prime suspect – researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences said in a recent statement: ‘The Wuhan coronavirus’ natural host could be bats… but between bats and humans there may be an unknown intermediate.’
And another scientific journal article has suggested the virus first infected snakes, which may then have transmitted it to people at the market in Wuhan.
Peking University researchers analysed the genes of the coronavirus and said they most closely matched viruses which are known to affect snakes. They said: ‘Results derived from our evolutionary analysis suggest for the first time that snake is the most probable wildlife animal reservoir for the 2019-nCoV,’ in the Journal of Medical Virology.
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.
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 virus it may take between two and 14 days 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 – at least 97 per cent, based on available data – will recover from these without any issues or medical help.
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.
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, yesterday 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 so far killed 427 people out of a total of at least 20,600 officially confirmed cases – 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.
However, experts say the true number of patients is likely considerably higher and therefore the death rate considerably lower. Imperial College London researchers estimate that there were 4,000 (up to 9,700) cases in Wuhan city alone up to January 18 – officially there were only 444 there to date. If cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the virus may be far less dangerous than currently believed.
Experts say it is likely only the most seriously ill patients are seeking help and are therefore recorded – the vast majority will have only mild, cold-like symptoms. For those whose conditions do become more severe, there is a risk of developing pneumonia which can destroy the lungs and kill you.
Can the virus be cured?
The Wuhan coronavirus cannot currently 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, 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 has not officially been confirmed as either an epidemic or a pandemic yet. This is likely because, despite the global concern, the number of people who have been confirmed to be infected is still relatively low.
A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.
An epidemic is when a disease takes hold of a smaller community, such as a single country, region or continent.
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