Deadly coronavirus may already be in UK - top doctor warns

27 January 2020, 08:31 | Updated: 27 January 2020, 16:31

The deadly coronavirus that has killed 81 people in China is likely to already be in the UK, according to England's director for health protection.

Dr Yvonne Doyle told Sky News: "The most likely place that we're going to find a case is someone who is in the country already."

And asked if there could be cases already in Britain, she said: "I would expect so."

A total of 73 tests for the virus in the UK came back negative on Monday, the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed.

Dr Doyle added that the NHS is ready to tackle the virus, which has infected nearly 3,000 people, and a screening technique has been developed to detect it.

"Our view is that, although airports are important, the most likely place that we might find a case is somebody in the country already, and it's absolutely critical that the public health service and the NHS are ready to diagnose that and are able to designate the person to the right facilities.

"That's the most likely scenario we are dealing with."

Around 2,000 are thought to have entered the UK from China on international flights since the outbreak began.

Dr Doyle said Public Health England is working to trace all of those people, adding: "It's not always possible to find everybody but we are working to our best endeavours."

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Asked if she was alarmed about a UK case, she said: "I think, with infections, health is global.

"We've been here before, we've dealt with Middle Eastern virus, we've dealt with Sars, we deal with flu regularly, which can be dangerous, but we're ready."

And she warned people should be keenly aware of personal hygiene, saying: "Use a tissue, throw it away, wash your hands."

She added: "People will be wary of what they touch but actually the important thing is its droplets and hands. So, keep your hands clean. Wash them with soap."

One expert, professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London, said his "best guess" is that 100,000 people have been infected.

Professor Robin Shattock, infection specialist at Imperial College London, also told Sky News that he believes it is likely the UK will see cases of coronavirus.

Speaking on KayBurley@Breakfast, he also said that a vaccine is being developed in the UK but will take a "period of months" if it is funded correctly, and then "significantly longer" than that to distribute it.

Professor Shattock said there could be a second wave of the virus later in the year, or that it may even eventually peter out.

"There are still many unknowns about the virus, and how it may spread; it is important to be ready for any possible scenario."

But he said he is "not worried" and that the public should not be "panicked" by the virus.

"It still needs to placed in context with influenza," Professor Shattock said.

"At the moment there have been 80 deaths... but influenza season kills about 60,000 people globally.

"We need a sense of proportion."