Coronavirus declared ‘serious and imminent threat’ to British public by health secretary

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By Alix Culbertson

The UK government can now forcibly quarantine people and keep them in isolation to prevent the spread of the virus.

The spread of coronavirus has been declared a “serious and imminent threat” to the British public after a patient in isolation tried to “abscond”.

The announcement by Matt Hancock gives the government additional powers to forcibly quarantine people with coronavirus, which originated in a market in Wuhan, China.

A government source said “there was someone who was threatening to abscond from Arrowe Park”, a hospital where Britons evacuated from Wuhan are in isolation – despite all of them signing a contract agreeing to a 14 day quarantine period which ends on Thursday.

Those in quarantine will not be free to leave quarantine and can be forcibly sent into isolation if they pose a threat to public health, the Department of Health added.

Hours after the announcement, the confirmed number of coronavirus cases in the UKĀ rose to eight.

A statement said: “The Secretary of State has made regulations to ensure that the public are protected as far as possible from the transmission of the virus.

“The Secretary of State declares that the incidence or transmission of novel coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health, and the measures outlined in these regulations are considered as an effective means of delaying or preventing further transmission of the virus.”

Mr Hancock has designatedĀ Arrowe Park HospitalĀ in the Wirral, andĀ Kents Hill Park in Milton Keynes, where dozens of Britons evacuated from Wuhan have been transferred to, as “isolation” facilities.

Wuhan and Hubei province have also been declared an “infected area” by the health secretary.

The Department of Health clarified that the risk to the public “has not changed” and by declaring the outbreak as a “serious and imminent threat” it makes it easier, legally, for health professionals to keep those in isolation at the two sites safe, as well as people across the country.

The latest coronavirus outbreak updates:

  • The global number of deaths is 910, with 908 in China, including an American and a Japanese person
  • British citizens flown on a second evacuation flight from Wuhan on Sunday are beingĀ quarantined at Kents Hill ParkĀ in Milton Keynes
  • A British man infected in SingaporeĀ could be a “superspreader”Ā as he is linked to at least seven confirmed cases in England, France and Spain
  • A British family of four is being tested in MajorcaĀ after coming into contact with the man in France
  • A total of 97 people died of coronavirus in China on Sunday – the largest in a single day since the outbreak was detected in mid-December, denting optimism the death control measures are fighting the outbreak
  • On Sunday, 3,062 new virus cases were reported in China – a 15% increase from the day before, bringing the total to 40,171, including 27 foreigners
  • More than 360 cases have been confirmed outside mainland China, with two deaths
  • The total number of deaths exceeds the 774 killed by the 2002/3 SARS outbreak
  • Confirmed cases of the new virus vastly exceed the 8,098 infected by SARS

Thousands of people remain quarantined on cruise ships docked in Japan and Hong Kong, with 60 more people on Monday testing positive forĀ coronavirus on the Diamond PrincessĀ in Yokohama, bringing the total from the ship to 130.

Despite the increase in cases, people in China trickled back to work after the Chinese New Year holiday on Monday, but public transport remained quiet with temperature checks in place.

A team of experts from the World Health Organisation, led by SARS expert Dr Bruce Aylward, is arriving in Beijing on Monday to help assess the latest outbreak.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke to President Xi Jinping and Chinese ministers in late January and agreed to send an international mission, but it has taken nearly two weeks to get the government’s green light on who was allowed to go.