The Government’s Cobra contingencies committee has met to discuss the outbreak of coronavirus after the medical director for Public Health England said it was ‘highly likely’ to come to Britain.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the risk to the UK public from the coronavirus “remains low” after chairing the meeting.
Exiting the Cabinet Office, Mr Hancock said: “We have just held a Cobra meeting on the coronavirus concerns.
“As I made clear to the House yesterday, the clinical advice is that the risk to the public remains low and the chief medical officer will be making a full statement later today.”
He did not answer any questions before entering his ministerial car.
Dr Paul Cosford, who is also Director of Health Protection, said that five suspected cases had now been cleared, but several suspected cases are still ongoing with results expected today.
The number of cases has jumped to 830 and the death toll has risen to at least 26, with two fatalities now reported outside of Wuhan and 12 cases confirmed globally.
A No 10 spokesman said there were still no confirmed cases in to UK.
Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, Dr Cosford said that it was now ‘highly likely’ that the infection would spread to Britain.
“There are no positive cases in the UK as yet, but we will go on testing and those numbers will of course change,” he said.
“I think it’s highly likely that we will have cases in the UK, and of course every so often we do get new infections coming from the animal kingdom such as this one.
“We do have a whole range of plans ready to go when that is the case and, and these are being implemented now so our systems are ready to diagnose somebody if they do come to the UK and have this infection, and of course the NHS is prepared to treat people, if they have this infection.”
Dr Cosford said anyone returning from China who experienced symptoms should avoid ‘pitching up’ at hospitals or their GP, and instead contact NHS 111.
But he said that the majority of people would probably recover if they contracted the virus.
“Coronavirus is a very broad Church of viruses, from the common cold on one hand two sides on the other,” he added.
“The people who have died are large the older people with other illnesses that they’ve got. And as I say that the majority of people. It does look as if they’re making a full recovery.”
Sir Jeremy Farrar, of the Wellcome Trust, said: “I am alarmed, but there is a big difference between that and panic. If this does take off like in China the pressure on the NHS will be very difficult.”
Private schools may need to make plans for overseas pupils
Private schools may need to make plans for overseas pupils who are unable or unwilling to return home for upcoming holidays due to the coronavirus outbreak, it has been suggested.
While there is “no immediate cause for concern” the situation needs to be closely monitored, independent school groups have said.
Schools should “err on the side of caution” to minimise risks to staff and students, according to guidance issued by the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA).
China sends more pupils to UK fee-paying schools than any other country.
Latest figures show that Chinese children made up around one in six of all international students at these schools.
In a statement, the GSA, which represents a group of fee-paying girls’ schools, said it is “drawing schools’ attention to the advice given by Public Health England concerning the corona virus and travel to China”.