Coronavirus: Brighton GP gets infection from ‘super-spreader’


Furious locals in Brighton have accused the government of keeping them in the dark over the coronavirus after it emerged that two of the eight UK cases are healthcare workers believed to work at a doctor’s surgery in the city. 

Patients who have visited County Oak Medical Centre are being urgently traced as four people in the city were confirmed to have the killer illness from China.

The surgery has been shut down, sealed off and is being cleaned by a team in hazmat suits ‘because of an urgent operational health and safety reason’.

The infected medics have been linked to a British ‘super spreader’ businessman who is feared to have infected at least 11 people with coronavirus he picked up in Singapore, prompting the emergency testing of hundreds of people on his flights, Alpine ski break and even staff in his local pub and yoga class in Hove. 

However, the NHS has refused to reveal any details about the two infected medics, how many people they came into contact with at work or whether they were on a skiing holiday with the ‘super spreader’ in late January.

Angry locals are now accusing the government of keeping them in the dark to try to ‘limit panic’.   

Shaun Wright said: ‘It seems like the government is trying to hide information in an attempt to limit panic, rather than informing the public who and where the infected have been.’

Another added: ‘It seems that information is being drip-fed to us by NHS England and we are being left to fill in the empty spaces between the dots.

‘The movements of the people so far infected have not been publicly documented, and since it has now (today) been established in China that the incubation period for the new coronavirus may be up to 24 days, the possibility of a wider spread is real.’ 

Dr Catriona Saynor, who owns the chalet in the Alps where the British ‘super-spreader’ stayed two weeks ago, was a partner at the Brighton surgery until last summer but works there as a locum, according to the medical centre’s website. She is believed to be infected with the coronavirus and having treatment at the Royal Free Hospital in London.  

County Oak medical centre in Brighton has been shut down, sealed off and is being cleaned by a team in hazmat suits this afternoon 'because of an urgent operational health and safety reason'.

County Oak medical centre in Brighton has been shut down, sealed off and is being cleaned by a team in hazmat suits this afternoon ‘because of an urgent operational health and safety reason’.

The team in protective clothing was also seen cleaning seats in the waiting area of the the GP surgery where Dr Catriona Saynor once worked and is believed to return as a locum 'from time to time'

The team in protective clothing was also seen cleaning seats in the waiting area of the the GP surgery where Dr Catriona Saynor once worked and is believed to return as a locum ‘from time to time’

A man in protective clothing cleans the floor of the pharmacy inside the County Oak Medical Centre in Brighton, which was closed today because at least one staff member has been diagnosed with coronavirus

A man in protective clothing cleans the floor of the pharmacy inside the County Oak Medical Centre in Brighton, which was closed today because at least one staff member has been diagnosed with coronavirus

A note on the front of the County Oak Medical Centre in Brighton saying the surgery has been closed for 'operational difficulties'

A note on the front of the County Oak Medical Centre in Brighton saying the surgery has been closed for ‘operational difficulties’

Dr Catriona (pictured), a doctor, had moved from Brighton to live permanently in the chalet

Environmental consultant Bob Saynor, 48, and his nine-year-old son have been named locally as being at the centre of the outbreak and are being treated in hospital

Dr Catriona Saynor (pictured left) quit as a partner in Brighton to live permanently in the French chalet where the British super-spreader visited to ski. She works at County Oak Medical Centreas a locum, according to the medical centre’s website. Her husband Bob and their nine-year-old son are also said to have been confirmed with coronavirus

Ministers today declared the outbreak ¿ which has infected more than 40,000 and killed 910 people ¿ a 'serious and imminent' threat to the British public

Ministers today declared the outbreak – which has infected more than 40,000 and killed 910 people – a ‘serious and imminent’ threat to the British public

Her environmental consultant husband Bob and their nine-year-old son are in quarantine in a French hospital after being exposed the virus by their guest from Hove – but it is not yet confirmed if Dr Saynor is in Britain or in France.

It is feared the County Oak staff member came into contact with a British ‘super spreader’, who is believed to have infected at least 11 others on a French ski holiday, and then worked an ‘admin day’, during which she did not see any patients, at the surgery.

Public Health England medical director, Yvonne Doyle, has said all four new cases were ‘closely linked to one another’. 

She said: ‘Our priority has been to speak to those who have close and sustained contact with confirmed cases, so we can advise them on what they can do to limit the spread of the virus.

‘Two of these new cases are healthcare workers and as soon as they were identified, we advised them to self-isolate in order to keep patient contact to a minimum.

‘We are now working urgently to identify all patients and other healthcare workers who may have come into close contact, and at this stage we believe this to be a relatively small number.

What we know about the Britons infected with coronavirus and the patients ill in the UK

Cases in the UK and where they are being cared for:

York and Newcastle: Two Chinese nationals who became ill while staying at Staycity Aparthotel in York on Wednesday January 29 are being treated at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.

Brighton and London: The third person to be diagnosed in the UK was a businessman from Brighton who caught the infection while on a work trip in Singapore, then became ill in Brighton after travelling home via a chalet at the Les Contamines Montjoie ski resort in the French Alps. He flew back to the UK on Easyjet flight EZS8481 from Geneva to London Gatwick on January 28 and is now being treated at St Thomas’ Hospital in London.

France and London: A fourth adult, believed to be Dr Catriona Saynor, who owns and was staying at the same chalet in France was diagnosed with the virus on Sunday, February 9, and is being treated at the Royal Free Hospital in London. 

Brighton and London: Four more people were diagnosed with the coronavirus in Brighton on Monday, February 10. Two of them are healthcare workers and all four are linked to the Brighton businessman and caught the virus in France. They are being treated at the St Thomas’ and Royal Free hospitals in London.

Brighton: One of the four unknown Britons is thought to work at Brighton’s County Oak Medical Centre, where Dr Catriona Saynor – also known as Dr Greenwood – worked before falling ill last week. They are believed to be a male doctor who also holidayed at the French chalet.

 Total: Eight people. Six Brits and two Chinese nationals.

British expats and holidaymakers outside the UK 

Majorca: A British father-of-two who stayed in the French Les Contamines Montjoieski ski resort tested positive after returning to his home in Majorca. His wife and two children are not ill.

France: Five British people became infected after coming into contact with the Brighton businessman. They include the French chalet’s owner, environmental consultant Bob Saynor, 48, and his nine-year-old son – the husband and child of the UK case Catriona Saynor. They are all in a French hospital. 

Japan: A British man on board a cruise ship docked at a port in Japan tested positive for coronavirus, Princess Cruises said. Alan Steele, from Wolverhampton, posted on Facebook that he had been diagnosed with the virus. Believed to be on his honeymoon, Steele said he was not showing any symptoms but was being taken to hospital.

Total: Seven people, all British nationals.

‘We would like thank all those who have followed public health advice and have taken the necessary steps to reduce the risk to the general public.’

Jacqui Egan, 55, from Brighton was due to have a bone scan at the County Oak Medical Centre in the city this afternoon.

But she received a phone call this morning to say her appointment had been cancelled and rescheduled for five weeks’ time because the centre was having a ‘deep clean’. 

Mrs Egan told MailOnline: ‘I’m concerned and not sure I want to go there again. The woman called me at 9.30am this morning and told me my appointment was cancelled because of the coronavirus.

‘It has been rearranged until March 17, but I’m in pain in my hip every day and had waited four weeks for this appointment.

‘If I hear anything else about virus I’ll go elsewhere and try go private – even though I can’t afford it.’

Five new patients – four men and a woman – were diagnosed with the deadly SARS-like infection in Brighton over the weekend and transferred to specialist hospitals in London to be treated in quarantine for 14 days. 

All of the patients were ‘known contacts’ of a businessman from neighbouring Hove, who became the UK’s third case last Friday after picking up the virus at a work conference in Singapore. 

They are all believed to have been staying in the same chalet in Les Contamines-Montjoie, close to Mont Blanc.

The six others who have fallen ill since holidaying with the ‘super-spreader’ include five more Britons being cared for in a French hospital and a father-of-two British expat who flew home to Majorca where he became ill.

And two are thought to have been doctors – a man and a woman – who worked at the County Oak Medical Centre, Brighton & Hove News reported.

A coronavirus isolation pod has now been set up at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.

The pods are designed to keep people who suspect they may be carrying the virus away from vulnerable people.  

A sign inside a doorway next to A&E says: ‘NHS 111 Coronavirus priority assessment pod this way’.

Brighton is at the centre of the outbreak in Britain with one super spreader at the source of all but two cases in the UK. 

It comes as a £10,500-a-year private school in Southampton has been closed for three days for a ‘deep clean’ after the family of some pupils were isolated over coronavirus fears when they returned from China with symptoms. 

Police have today been given the power to seize people trying to escape coronavirus quarantine and force them back into isolation in handcuffs, the government has announced.

A new law was hurriedly brought into force after a patient staying at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral reportedly tried to leave before completing the 14-day stay after his return from China.

Government sources said those who returned to the UK on the evacuation flights on January 31 were given a ‘very clear choice’ and had to sign contracts saying they would remain in isolation for a fortnight.

But a source involved with the Arrowe Park incident said: ‘We found we didn’t have the necessary enforcement powers to make sure they didn’t leave.’ 

Brighton GP surgery the County Oak Medical Centre has been closed today for 'urgent operational health and safety reasons' after a member of staff tested positive for the killer coronavirus

Brighton GP surgery the County Oak Medical Centre has been closed today for ‘urgent operational health and safety reasons’ after a member of staff tested positive for the killer coronavirus

Arrowe Park Hospital, the isolation facility in The Wirral, where Britons evacuated from Wuhan in China have been staying

Arrowe Park Hospital, the isolation facility in The Wirral, where Britons evacuated from Wuhan in China have been staying

Health chiefs are also under increasing pressure to name a British 'super spreader' of the coronavirus, who is thought to have infected at least seven others

Health chiefs are also under increasing pressure to name a British ‘super spreader’ of the coronavirus, who is thought to have infected at least seven others

UK GOVERNMENT WILL ‘FORCIBLY QUARANTINE ANY PATIENTS WITH SUSPECTED CORONAVIRUS’

Suspected coronavirus patients will now be forcibly quarantined after a man staying at an isolation facility following his evacuation from Wuhan two weeks ago threatened to walk out.

The patient staying at Arrowe Park hospital on The Wirral told medics he was going to leave before completing 14 days of quarantine after his return from the Chinese city, MailOnline understands.

Government sources said those who returned to the UK on the evacuation flights on January 31 were given a ‘very clear choice’ and had to sign contracts saying they would remain in isolation for a fortnight.

It came as the Department of Health today declared the outbreak a ‘serious and imminent’ threat to the British public as it announced new powers to fight the spread. Anyone infected with the virus will now be kept in quarantine for their own safety and will be forced into isolation if they pose a threat to public health.  

A source told MailOnline: ‘We found we didn’t have the necessary enforcement powers to make sure they didn’t leave.

The source said the phrase ‘serious and imminent threat’ in the regulation was needed to trigger the powers, and at the moment the risk to the public is still regarded as ‘moderate’. We’re saying we are having to take action to prevent it becoming a serious and imminent threat.’

The first Britons evacuated from Wuhan will have completed 14 days in quarantine on Saturday, MailOnline understands. 

Police will now be able to force people to remain in the units and, if they leave, to arrest them for committing an offence and take them back to the quarantine facility, MailOnline understands.

The new rule comes as England today announced its fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth cases of the virus in Brighton – all of the three men and a woman are linked to the fourth patient, who has now been dubbed a ‘super-spreader’.

The fourth patient was a businessman who returned to the UK from a conference in Singapore via a ski chalet in France, where other Britons were subsequently taken ill with the virus.

The Department of Health today declared the outbreak – which has infected more than 40,000 and killed 910 people – a ‘serious and imminent’ threat to the British public.  

Confirming the cases this morning, professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, said: ‘Four further patients in England have tested positive for novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to eight.

‘The new cases are all known contacts of a previously confirmed UK case, and the virus was passed on in France. Experts at Public Health England continue to work hard tracing patient contacts from the UK cases. They successfully identified these individuals and ensured the appropriate support was provided.

‘The patients have been transferred to specialist NHS centres at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and The Royal Free hospitals, and we are now using robust infection control measures to prevent further spread of the virus. 

‘The NHS is extremely well prepared to manage these cases and treat them, and we are working quickly to identify any further contacts these patients have had.’ 

Health chiefs are also under increasing pressure to name a British ‘super spreader’ of the coronavirus, who is thought to have infected at least 11 people. 

The businessman is at the centre of a web of cases stretching across the UK, France and Spain after he apparently contracted the virus during a four-day trip to Singapore for a sales conference for gas analysis company Servomex.

He attended a business conference in Singapore then jetted from south-east Asia to the Alps to ski in Les Contamines-Montjoie in late January.  

Passengers, including a baby, disembark from a charter flight carrying Brits evacuated from Wuhan, China after it arrived at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire

Passengers, including a baby, disembark from a charter flight carrying Brits evacuated from Wuhan, China after it arrived at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire

Hundreds have been tested for cononavirus in the town of Les Contamines-Montjoie, near Megeve in the French Alps

Hundreds have been tested for cononavirus in the town of Les Contamines-Montjoie, near Megeve in the French Alps

Passengers have been taken by coach to Kents Hill Park hotel and conference centre in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, where they will be quarantined for 14 days (pictured are provisions laid out at the centre)

Passengers have been taken by coach to Kents Hill Park hotel and conference centre in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, where they will be quarantined for 14 days (pictured are provisions laid out at the centre)

Figures also show 910 people have now died across the world, with all but two deaths recorded in mainland China

Figures also show 910 people have now died across the world, with all but two deaths recorded in mainland China

More than 40,000 people have now caught the killer coronavirus ¿ nearly 99 per cent of the cases have been recorded in China

More than 40,000 people have now caught the killer coronavirus – nearly 99 per cent of the cases have been recorded in China 

BRIT BUSINESSMAN GETS CORONAVIRUS AT SINGAPORE HOTEL THEN FLEW HOME VIA FRENCH SKI RESORT AND HAD PINT AT HIS LOCAL PUB

A British ‘super spreader’ is feared to have infected at least seven others with coronavirus, prompting the emergency testing of hundreds of people on his flights, Alpine ski break and even staff in his local pub.

The businessman is at the centre of a web of cases stretching across the UK, France and Spain after he apparently contracted the virus during a four-day trip to Singapore for a sales conference for gas analysis company Servomex.

The man in his fifties then jetted from south-east Asia to the Alps to ski in Les Contamines-Montjoie in late January where five more Britons including a nine-year-old boy became infected despite the ‘super spreader’ not having any cold or flu-like symptoms.

Britain’s health authorities have also contacted 183 passengers and six crew on an easyJet flight then taken by the unnamed man from Geneva to London, warning that they could be infected.

Five staff at The Grenadier in Hove, his local pub, have been instructed to self-isolate for a fortnight after he went there for a pint on Saturday February 1. 

Five more Britons including a nine-year-old boy became infected despite the ‘super spreader’ not having any cold or flu-like symptoms. 

Britain’s health authorities have also contacted 183 passengers and six crew on an Easyjet flight then taken by the unnamed man from Geneva to London, warning that they could be infected.

Five staff at The Grenadier in Hove, his local pub, have been instructed to self-isolate for a fortnight after he went there for a pint on Saturday February 1. 

And a student at Portslade Aldridge Community Academy in Brighton has also been told to stay at home for two weeks amid fears he came into contact with the so-called ‘super spreader’. 

Officials have desperately tried to stop further spread with a cross-border hunt for all the hundreds of people the Hove man may have had contact with.  

More than 910 people have died and 40,000 have become infected since the outbreak began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has been placed in lockdown to curb the spread – an evacuation flight landed at RAF Brize Norton on Saturday. 

Public Health England is under pressure to reveal where the so-called ‘super spreader’ had been and the full extent of the numbers under observation.

The task has been made more difficult because the patient, from Hove in East Sussex, interrupted his return from Singapore to Britain by taking a four-day break in the French Alps. 

Professor Paul Hunter, professor in medicine, University of East Anglia, said last night: ‘This new case would appear to be linked to the cluster of cases in the French ski resort which is also linked to the case in Brighton.

‘As such this case is part of the same cluster which is being reported as linked to a British national returning from Singapore.

‘Whilst we currently do not know many details about how this new case was linked to others in the cluster, his/her identification does not at this stage indicate wider spread within the UK community.

‘If the new individual had been already identified through contact tracing and the person was self-isolating then this should not pose any additional risk.

‘Further cases within an already identified cluster are not surprising and do not pose an additional risk to public health providing such contacts are complying with instructions from Public Health England.’

Authorities confirmed yesterday that a fourth case of coronavirus in the UK was also linked to the Hove businessman.

In addition, a British father-of-two who stayed in the ski resort tested positive after returning to his home in Majorca.

The five Britons who caught the virus in the Alps include the chalet’s owner, environmental consultant Bob Saynor, 48, and his nine-year-old son.

British honeymooner Alan Steel, from Wolverhampton, became the second confirmed UK national to be diagnosed with the lethal disease after catching it on a cruise ship off the coast of Japan (pictured with his new wife Wendy)

British honeymooner Alan Steel, from Wolverhampton, became the second confirmed UK national to be diagnosed with the lethal disease after catching it on a cruise ship off the coast of Japan (pictured with his new wife Wendy)

Mr Steele's wife Wendy on the cruise

Mr Steele said he was not yet showing symptoms of the virus and hopes he may just be a 'carrier' but faces a lengthy quarantine in hospital on the mainland

Alan Steele (pictured right) was separated from his new wife Wendy (pictured left on board the cruise ship) and taken off the Diamond Princess after learning his test results in Yokohama Bay today

Alan Steele had married his wife Wendy in January before they set off on a honeymoon cruise on board the Diamond Princess

Alan Steele had married his wife Wendy in January before they set off on a honeymoon cruise on board the Diamond Princess 

The patients staying at Arrowe Park Hospital arrived back in the UK on January 31

The patients staying at Arrowe Park Hospital arrived back in the UK on January 31

The announcement by Matt Hancock (pictured) gives the Government greater powers to fight the spread of the virus, with four confirmed cases in the UK

The announcement by Matt Hancock (pictured) gives the Government greater powers to fight the spread of the virus, with four confirmed cases in the UK

WHAT IS A SUPER SPREADER? 

Patients infected with the killer Wuhan coronavirus are thought to infect up to 2.6 people, infectious disease specialists estimate.

But some patients pass it on to a disproportionately higher number than that. 

A person’s behaviour may contribute to them becoming a super spreader.  

Someone who travels a lot has a greater chance of becoming one because they come into contact with many people in a number of countries.

International businessmen and women are therefore at risk.

This appears to be the case with the British businessman who travelled from Singapore to the French Alps and back to the UK. 

The unnamed middle-aged man is thought to have infected at least 11 people. 

Another suspected super spreader in the current outbreak is a man believed to have infected 14 workers at a hospital in Wuhan, China. 

But in other cases it is not always clear why a person can become a super spreader.

Scientists say some people may ‘shed’ more of the virus into the environment by coughing or sneezing as their immune system tries to get rid of it. 

Super spreading is not a new phenomenon. 

In 2012, a Mers-coronavirus patient returned led to 82 people becoming infected after returning from Saudi Arabia to South Korea. 

Irish cook Mary Mallon (1869-1938) was dubbed ‘Typhoid Mary’ after passing the disease to 51 people in the US when she had no symptoms.    

They are in hospital with three other Britons who were staying at the six-bedroom chalet.

Mr Saynor’s two other children and four Britons from another family are being kept in isolation at French hospitals as a precaution. His wife Catriona, a doctor, is reportedly in the UK. 

The family is understood to have been living in the village for just three months after moving from Hove themselves, despite having bought the property several years ago. 

Mrs Saynor had left France by the time the investigation began and is under observation in a UK hospital. It is not clear if she was the fourth case diagnosed in Britain.

French officials have closed the 95-pupil primary school attended by the Saynors’ nine-year-old son, while a 200-pupil school in nearby Saint-Gervais he attended for one day last week will also be shut.

Etienne Jacquet, the mayor of Les Contamines-Montjoie, said the chalet had now been disinfected.

At this time of year, the village of 1,200 people, which is part of the Mount Blanc ski area, hosts thousands of skiers.

But local shop staff said some tourists had cancelled bookings, even though French half-term week starts today, followed by British half-term next week.

Last night, Easyjet spokesman said it had contacted all of the passengers and crew on the infected carrier’s flight from Geneva to London Gatwick on January 28.

Five employees at The Grenadier pub in Hove have been instructed to self-isolate after he visited for two hours on February 1. A school pupil in the area was also told to self-isolate during the investigation into the man’s movements.

The meeting in Singapore was attended by 94 other business people, with participants from Malaysia, South Korea and Britain also diagnosed with coronavirus.

Dr Nathalie MacDermott, from King’s College London, told yesterday of her ‘concerns of the potential for this epidemic to develop into a pandemic, particularly if international lines of communication about cases of infection and mechanism of transmission are not maintained’. 

The super spreader had been at the chalet close to Les Contamines' main ski lifts where five people became ill

The super spreader had been at the chalet close to Les Contamines’ main ski lifts where five people became ill

Five staff at the Grenadier pub in Hove have been instructed to self-isolate after he visited for two hours on February 1

Five staff at the Grenadier pub in Hove have been instructed to self-isolate after he visited for two hours on February 1

The landlord has confirmed that the 'super-spreader' had been in for a drink but said the pub is open for business

The landlord has confirmed that the ‘super-spreader’ had been in for a drink but said the pub is open for business

Professor Richard Tedder, a visiting professor at Imperial College London, said that the most recent cases gave rise to the ‘potential risk of a pandemic’.

China yesterday raised the death toll from its coronavirus outbreak to 811, passing the number killed globally by the SARS epidemic.

China’s ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, described the virus – which has spread to at least 27 countries and territories, infecting more than 330 people – as ‘the enemy of mankind’.

Health experts believe the outbreak could have spread from bats to humans through the illegal traffic of pangolins – or scaly anteaters – which are prized in China for food and medicine.  

Elsewhere, 60 more people on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in the port of Yokohama have tested positive for coronavirus, Japan’s health minister has said.

There are now 130 confirmed cases on the ship, with officials previously saying 70 people had the virus among the 3,711 passengers and crew.

More than 3,600 people, including 78 British passport holders, are still in a 14-day quarantine on board the ship.

British honeymooner Alan Steele, who was transferred from the cruise liner to hospital in Japan with coronavirus, was said to be feeling well and in good spirits over the weekend.

In the UK, a University of York student and their relative are still being treated at the Royal Victoria Infirmary infectious diseases centre in Newcastle.   

Nearly 100 people died of coronavirus yesterday on the deadliest day of the outbreak so far.  

The death toll in mainland China rose by 97, taking the number of global fatalities to 910. 

Another 3,062 cases were reported in China yesterday – an increase of 15 per cent compared to Saturday which put an end to a series of daily declines.   

The latest surge in deaths is a setback to hopes that China’s drastic quarantine measures might be working. 

The rise in China’s death toll comes as millions of people return to work today after an extended Lunar New Year holiday. 

Roads in Beijing and Shanghai had significantly more traffic than in recent days and the city of Guangzhou was resuming normal public transport today.

However, the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said 60 per cent of its member companies were planning mandatory work-from-home policies. 

Tens of millions of people in Hubei province were not returning to work, as the province at the centre of the outbreak remained under lockdown.  

China has built two hospitals for virus patients in Wuhan and sent thousands of extra doctors, nurses and other health care workers to the city of 1 million people.   

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 910 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 40,640 have been infected in at least 28 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.  

By February 5, there were more than 24,000 cases and 492 deaths.

Where does the virus come from?

According to scientists, the virus has almost certainly come 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 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. 

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 similar to a coronavirus they found in bats.

There may have been an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human, researchers suggested, although details of this are less clear.

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.  

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 910 people out of a total of at least 40,640 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 that date. If cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the virus may be far less dangerous than currently believed, but also far more widespread. 

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 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.



Source link World News

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