Public transport and schools face shutdown in coronavirus action plan

26 February 2020, 14:48

Concerns have been raised over the virus spreading on public transport
Concerns have been raised over the virus spreading on public transport. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to parts of northern Italy which have been hit by coronavirus and concerns grow over the spread of the virus across Europe.

Eleven small towns in Lombardy and Veneto are currently in lockdown due to the outbreak - which has killed 11 people in the country while more than 300 people have tested positive as infected with COVID-19.

The first confirmed cases in Austria, Croatia, Switzerland and Brazil are all people who'd travelled to the country.

Meanwhile, in the UK, a number of schools have sent pupils home after returning from ski trips in the region.

Read more: Health Secretary Matt Hancock: 'If coronavirus becomes a pandemic we can't stop it coming to UK'

Public Health England announced that flu patients will now be assessed for coronavirus to see if it is spreading.

On Tuesday Health Secretary Matt Hancock told LBC official advice has been changed to say people who have been to anywhere in Italy north of Pisa should self-isolate if they develop flu-like symptoms on their return to the UK.

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

Britons who have been in locked-down regions of Italy - including Lombardy and Veneto - were told they should self-isolate at home for 14 days even if they have no symptoms.

The Foreign Office later updated its travel advice, with a spokesman saying: "We advise against all but essential travel to 10 small towns in Lombardy and one in Veneto, which are currently in isolation due to an ongoing outbreak of coronavirus.

"Any British nationals already in these towns should follow the advice of the local authorities."

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

England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said schools could be shut and public transport reduced if coronavirus became a global pandemic.

He said: "There's no secret there's a variety of things you need to look at, you look at things like school closures, you look at things like reducing transport."

Read more: Family self-isolated due to 'people’s fears' over coronavirus

Prof Whitty said families could also be asked to self-isolate if one of them had symptoms of the virus.

As of February 25, a total of 6,795 people have been tested in the UK with 13 positive cases.

China has reported 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths, while South Korea has the second-highest number of cases.

South Korean authorities have reported a rise of 169 more cases of the coronavirus known as Covid-19, bringing the country's total number of infections to 1,146.

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

Eleven South Korean fatalities have also been reported, mostly at a hospital in the county of Cheongdo, near Daegu.

Another 19 cases came from neighbouring North Gyeongsang Province towns.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier called for Americans to be prepared for the illness to spread there, adding new urgency to response efforts that had long focused on China and its Asian neighbours.

"It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen - and how many people in this country will have severe illness," Dr Nancy Messonnier of the CDC said.

The number of cases were expected to rise as health workers were working to finish testing hundreds of members of the Daegu branch of a church that has the country's biggest cluster of infections.

The Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which mainstream Christian organisations describe as a cult, agreed to hand over a list of 200,000 members nationwide so screenings could expand.

The US military says one of its soldiers based in South Korea has also tested positive for Covid-19.

The 23-year-old man was originally based in a town near Daegu and had visited a neighbouring base in recent days.

He is currently in self-quarantine at his off-base residence.

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

The military said South Korean authorities and US military health professionals were tracing his contacts to determine if other people may have been exposed.

Italy had taken Europe's most stringent preventative measures and yet became home to the biggest outbreak outside of Asia.

Experts in Japan, with one of the world's most sophisticated health systems, acknowledged the country's handling of a virus-stricken cruise ship was flawed and could have allowed the problem to magnify.

Japan's case total of 860, third-highest behind China and South Korea, includes 691 passengers and crew from the Diamond Princess.

Four former passengers on the ship have died and more than a dozen people who were evacuated by their home countries later tested positive for the virus.

Six government officials involved in the quarantine effort also became sick.

Overnight, 445 Filipinos who were mostly crew members on the ship flew home to begin a 14-day quarantine at an athletic facility in a northern province.

Eighty Filipino crew members who tested positive for the virus stayed behind in hospitals in Japan.