Three cases of coronavirus confirmed in France as 14 in UK test negative

25 January 2020, 00:05 | Updated: 25 January 2020, 00:52

Tests are still ongoing for patients in the UK
Tests are still ongoing for patients in the UK. Picture: PA

Three cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in France, according to the country's health minister.

The cases, announced on Friday, are the first to be confirmed in Europe.

Health minister Agnes Buzyn said that all three people had travelled to China and that she expects more cases to be confirmed.

In China, 41 people have died, with more than 850 confirmed cases.

Its lockdown has been expanded to cover more than 36 million people across 13 cities, encompassing a population bigger than that of New York, London, Paris and Moscow combined.

Fewer than two dozen cases in all have been confirmed outside mainland China, in Hong Kong, Macao, the US, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Ms Buzyn said: "We have two cases. We will probably have other cases.

"We see how difficult it is in today's world to close the frontiers. In reality, it's not possible.

"You have to treat an epidemic as you would a fire, that's to say find the source very quickly."

One of the people taken to hospital, a 48-year-old man, passed through Wuhan, the epicentre in China for the virus, before travelling to France on Wednesday, the minister said.

He has been in hospital in Bordeaux since Thursday. She said he is a French national who travelled to China for work and who lives in the Bordeaux area.

He is believed to have been in contact with about 10 people before he was taken into care, the minister said.

The health ministry did not give the age, nationalities or other personal details about the other two people taken to hospital in Paris, other than saying that they travelled to China.

The news came after tests that were carried out on 14 suspected patients of the virus in the UK came back negative.

England's Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said testing was still being carried out on “other people” in the UK who are feared to have contracted the disease.

He also said there was a "fair chance" Britain will see cases emerge.

Prof Whitty spoke following a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergency committee in Whitehall, chaired by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

He said: "I am working closely with the other UK chief medical officers.

"We all agree that the risk to the UK public remains low, but there may well be cases in the UK at some stage.

"We have tried-and-tested measures in place to respond. The UK is well prepared for these types of incidents, with excellent readiness against infectious diseases.

"We have global experts monitoring the situation around the clock and have a strong track record of managing new forms of infectious disease.

"The UK has access to some of the best infectious disease and public health experts in the world.

"A public health hub will be set up in Heathrow from today. This consists of clinicians and other public health officials, in addition to existing port health measures."

In an interview, Prof Whitty said: "We think there's a fair chance we may get some cases over time.

"Of course this depends on whether this continues for a long time, or whether this turns out to be something which is brought under control relatively quickly."

He added: "I think we should definitely see this as a marathon, not a sprint, we need to have our entire response based on that principle.

"At the minute it definitely looks like this is a lot less dangerous if you get it than Ebola, and a lot less dangerous than the recent coronavirus MERS, and it's probably less dangerous if you get it than SARS virus.

"What we don't know is how far it's going to spread, that really is something we need to plan for all eventualities."

GPs up and down the country have been issued with guidance to isolate anyone they suspect to have the disease who have travelled to Wuhan in China, the disease epicentre, in recent days.

Professor Paul Cosford, emeritus medical director at PHE, has said it is still "early days" in the course of the virus, but stressed that most of those affected abroad are making a good recovery.

He added it is "highly likely" that cases would be seen in the UK.

Mr Hancock said the risk to the UK public "remains low" as he left the Cabinet Office.

"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."

A field hospital is built in Wuhan, China
A field hospital is built in Wuhan, China. Picture: Getty

The Scottish Government confirmed on Thursday that five people were being tested after presenting with symptoms of the illness, while it was understood that another patient was tested at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital.

Two of those being tested in Scotland had been diagnosed with flu after travelling to Wuhan in China - the origin of the global outbreak.

Downing Street said four out of five suspected cases in Scotland were believed to involve Chinese nationals.

The Chinese city of Wuhan is rapidly building a new 1,000-bed hospital to treat victims.

Disneyland Shanghai and parts of the Great Wall of China have been closed to visitors.

Hospitals in Wuhan are struggling to cope due to medical shortages.

Almost 32 million people and 14 cities in China are now facing travel restrictions.

the World Health Organisation on Thursday decided against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for now.

In the capital Beijing officials have cancelled major events indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of holiday celebrations, to help control the spread of the virus.

With Wuhan on lockdown, a total of 10 cities in central Hubei province also suspended public transportation over the coronavirus outbreak, the Hubei Daily reported on Friday.

Other cases have been reported in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, the US and Vietnam.

Bordering Beijing, Hebei's health commission confirmed the death of an 80-year-old man who had returned from Wuhan recently.

The revised death toll came a day after Chinese authorities moved to lock down 10 cities with a combined population of more than 32 million people in an unprecedented effort to contain the deadly new virus, which has spread to other parts of the world during the busy Lunar New Year travel period.