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UK confirms first cases of coronavirus as global concerns mount

Pharma industry steps up its efforts to develop therapeutics for infection

Coronavirus

The UK confirmed its first two cases of coronavirus infection this morning, after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a global emergency yesterday.

Few details are available about the two UK cases, other than they are in the same family and are reportedly in the Newcastle area. It is not clear yet whether they had travelled to China recently or have contracted coronavirus strain 2019-nCov from someone else who had done so.

Chief medical officer Chris Witty said the two were under specialist NHS care, and that “tried and tested infection control procedures” had been implemented to contain the spread of the virus, which seems to be more infectious than SARS – the last major coronavirus outbreak a few years ago – but less likely to cause fatalities.

“The NHS is extremely well-prepared and used to managing infections and we are already working rapidly to identify any contacts the patients had, to prevent further spread,” he added.

“We have been preparing for UK cases of novel coronavirus and we have robust infection control measures in place to respond immediately.”

The UK infections have emerged amid a dramatic escalation in the number of cases of the virus in China in the last 24 hours, with more than 10,000 confirmed infections across every Chinese region and the death toll in the country now at 213.

There have been 98 cases in upwards of 18 other countries, including the Australia, Canada, France, Finland, Germany, India Japan, the US and Vietnam, and it was almost inevitable that the virus would eventually reach the UK.

Eight cases have involved human-to-human transmission and – worryingly – the first instance of coronavirus spread from some showing no symptoms has also been reported, which if confirmed would make the outbreak potentially much harder to control.

The WHO’s emergency committee for the coronavirus outbreak praised China’s swift response to the crisis, particularly its rapid isolation and sequencing of 2019-nCov which has allowed other countries to rapidly diagnose the infection, and strong public health measures.

2019-nCov is now a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), it said, while also recommending that other countries should not restrict travel to or trade with China. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it is a time for “solidarity, not stigma”.

Regardless, Russia has closed its border with China, while the US has advised its citizens not to go there, and many countries are evacuating their citizens.

A flight carrying 83 UK citizens and 27 foreign nationals is flying back to the UK from Wuhan, which is at the centre of the outbreak, and is due to land this afternoon. The passengers will be transferred immediately to a medical facility in the Wirral where they will be isolated and monitored for two weeks.

The pharma industry has been stepping up its efforts to develop diagnostics, drugs and vaccines for 2019-nCov, as well as donating medical supplies to China as it battles the virus.

This morning Anglo-French biotech Novacyt said it had launched a new molecular test for coronavirus that only detects the 2019-nCov variant, allowing other types to be excluded.

Several companies are searching for a vaccine, including Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, CureVac and Novavas, and research is also being undertaken to see whether existing or experimental antiviral drugs could have an effect on the virus.

Article by
Phil Taylor

31st January 2020

From: Healthcare

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