Man in 80s ‘who returned from dream cruise’ becomes UK’s second coronavirus victim

7 March 2020, 14:08 | Updated: 7 March 2020, 14:11

A patient in Milton Keynes has died from coronavirus
A patient in Milton Keynes has died from coronavirus. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

A man in his 80s has become the second person in the UK to die after testing positive for coronavirus.

Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said the man, who had underlying health conditions, tested positive for coronavirus shortly before his death on March 5.

In a statement, the trust said: "His family has been informed and our thoughts and condolences are with them at what is undoubtedly a difficult and distressing time.

"The hospital continues to work with Public Health England to isolate any patients or staff who had contact with the patient.

"All services and appointments at the hospital are running normally. The trust is following established guidelines to minimise the risk of the virus spreading.

"We will not be commenting further and ask that the family's privacy is respected."

He is understood to have gone on a Caribbean cruise and returned a few days before his death.

His family raised concerns that it had taken too long for the hospital to spot that he had the disease. A family member told the Guardian: "Our concern is that the hospital were too slow to detect that our relative had symptoms similar to those of coronavirus and too slow to move him from a ward into isolation, and that that may have put a lot of people – fellow patients on the ward, staff who were looking after him and visitors who came to see him – at risk of contracting the virus from him.

“We think they should have put him into isolation right away, as soon as he arrived, given his symptoms.”

Staff who treated the man have gone into self-isolation and the hospital ward has undergone a deep clean.

Yesterday, it was confirmed an elderly woman with prior health problems died in Reading.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said: "I am very sorry to report a second patient in England who tested positive for Covid-19 has sadly died.

"I offer my sincere condolences to their family and friends and ask that their request for privacy is respected.

"The patient, who was being treated at the Milton Keynes University Hospital, was an older patient who had underlying health conditions. Contact tracing is already under way."

The Royal Berkshire NHS Trust said had been "in and out of hospital" for other reasons but was admitted on Wednesday evening to hospital in Reading and tested positive.

It came during a day of several key developments, with the number of UK cases of Covid-19 surging to 116 - more than double the total 48 hours earlier - and Downing Street warning it was "highly likely" the virus would spread "in a significant way".

Read more: Coronavirus: Beard sanitiser sales spike after NHS urged staff to shave

Meanwhile, more than 140 British nationals are stranded on a cruise ship after a former passenger died from coronavirus and several people on board fell ill.

The Grand Princess, which carries more than 3,500 people, remains at sea off the coast of California.

Covid-19 test kits are being flown out to the ship and will be analysed at a laboratory in San Francisco.

In the UK Health chiefs said people diagnosed with coronavirus who show only "very minimal" symptoms should self-isolate at home rather than in a hospital, while new advice was issued to travellers returning from Italy, which has become the epicentre of the outbreak in Europe.

Read more: Coronavirus UK: Do surgical face masks work to avoid virus symptoms?

Following the news of the UK death, Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered his sympathy to the family of the patient, while England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said he was "very sorry" to report the news.

He added: "We believe they contracted the virus in the UK and contact tracing is already underway."

Last week, a British tourist who had been on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined in Japan, became the first UK citizen to die from the virus.

Read more: Coronavirus: What is a pandemic and how is one declared?

At a press conference on Thursday evening, Prof Whitty revealed that 18 people have so far recovered from coronavirus in the UK and 45 people are being treated at home.

"We have moved to a situation where people have very minimal symptoms and we think they are clinically safe and they are able to self-isolate, we think it is actually safer for them as well as more pleasant if they can self-isolate in their own homes," he said.

"Anybody who needs hospitalisation will be hospitalised."

Read more: ‘Don’t die, please buy’ Glasgow newsagent sells out entire stock of coronavirus face masks

He had earlier warned that critical care beds in the NHS could come under intense pressure during a coronavirus epidemic, and told MPs the UK had mainly moved to the delay stage of tackling the virus, which could include measures such as school closures, encouraging greater home working, and reducing the number of large-scale gatherings.

But the PM stressed it was important not to "fire your shots too early" in escalating measures to tackle the illness.

"In something like this, what the scientists say is you've got a range of things that you can do to arrest or check the spread of a disease," he said.

"But you can't fire your shots too early, it's all about the timing and the progression."

He added: "The situation is pretty much as it has been in the sense that we are still in the contain phase, though now our scientists and medical advisers are making preparations for the delay phase."

Read more: Brighton shop owner asks customers to wear masks and gloves amid coronavirus fear

In terms of national prevention measures, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Prof Whitty told him that stopping flights in to the UK would only delay the arrival of the disease "by a matter of days".

Mr Hancock said: "If this virus becomes established around the world, there is no way in stopping it from getting to Britain eventually.

"Do you try to shut ourselves off as a nation and delay it, and if it does go pandemic in the rest of the world it is inevitable that it would come here.

"Or do you try to keep as much normal life as possible and tackle it by finding those who do come in to the country."

Read more: First UK coronavirus death as elderly patient dies in Berkshire

He added that halting flights to the UK would also make it "much harder" to get medicines into the country because they are produced abroad.

Meanwhile, Government advice was updated to urge people who have returned to the UK in the past fortnight from any part of Italy - rather than just the northern regions - to call 111 or self-isolate if they feel unwell.

Those who have returned from "lockdown" areas in northern Italy in the past 14 days are advised to self-isolate regardless of whether they have symptoms.

A total of 25 new cases in England were announced on Thursday - 17 of whom had recently travelled from countries or clusters already under investigation, and eight of whom contracted the virus in the UK.

One more case was confirmed in Wales, while three more were reported in Scotland.

Half of all coronavirus cases in the UK are most likely to occur in just a three-week period, with 95% of them over a nine-week period, England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty said.

Prof Whitty said he had a "reasonably high degree of confidence" that 1% is at the "upper limit" of the mortality rate for coronavirus, although Wuhan in China, which has a weaker health system, had seen an 8% to 9% mortality rate for those aged 80 and over.

Elderly people should not self-isolate yet, he added, and neither should those with conditions such as asthma, saying there was no evidence of "deep harm" in children with asthma.

He said pregnant women should not start worrying about coronavirus but advised any smokers to stop.