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Coronavirus: Holiday Inn near Heathrow Airport designated quarantine centre for at-risk passengers | UK News

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The government has commandeered a hotel near Heathrow Airport for possible use as a quarantine zone for any people entering the country who may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

The Department of Health has confirmed that officials have block-booked every room at the nearby Holiday Inn, and that it has been temporarily closed to other guests.

The move is part of a number of contingency plans now being enacted to help cope with a more serious outbreak of COVID-19 in the UK, should one occur.

Officials have confirmed the number of people being tested for possible exposure to the virus has risen to 4,501, although the number testing positive for the virus has remained unchanged at nine.

The Holiday Inn on Bath Road has been temporarily closed to other guests. Credit: Google Maps
Image:
The Holiday Inn on Bath Road has been temporarily closed to other guests. Credit: Google Maps

Urgent efforts are underway to update national contingency plans, which were last used almost a decade ago during the global swine flu epidemic.

Within the NHS, 24 hospitals have been earmarked to deal with confirmed cases of the flu-like illness.

Some health trusts are also requisitioning portacabins, should extra bed space be required in the event of a major outbreak.

The UK’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said health officials have adopted a list of key priorities – contain, delay, research and mitigate – to deal with the virus.

He said the first priority was to contain the virus, then to delay any potential outbreak until the summer, when winter pressures on the NHS were over.

Meanwhile, urgent research on potential vaccines is set to continue in conjunction with UK-wide plans to mitigate the risks of any outbreak.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, acknowledged that a significant outbreak of COVID-19 in the UK would put immense pressure on already struggling services, but added that staff were used to dealing with health crises.

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He said: “There’s no doubt that the NHS at the moment is under considerable strain as it is, so of course if there were a full blown outbreak, the NHS would have to adapt.

“The good news is that the health service is very used to adapting to emergencies.

“So even at a very serious level, it would have to make some very serious decisions, for example cancelling routine operations, making sure you protect GP surgeries and hospitals, but the service overall would be able to cope.”

Another priority area when it comes to contingency planning is education.

Public Health England has issued guidance to schools and parents saying that no restrictions or special control measures are needed while tests for COVID-19 are carried out on a suspected case.

While a pupil or staff member suspected of coming into contact with the virus is being tested, the guidance says no action is needed.

If a case of the virus is confirmed, then health protection teams would trace those at risk.



Several of those travelling back tested positive for COVID-19. Pic: Philip and Gay Courter



British passengers in quarantine say they have been shown more care from other countries than the UK government.

The new guidance comes the week after at least seven schools in Brighton, Hove and Eastbourne messaged parents saying that they would authorise absences for families wishing to self-isolate.

The government’s existing planning for an influenza pandemic forms the template for many of the contingencies around dealing with a COVID-19 pandemic.

It states: “The government’s overall aim will be to encourage people to carry on as normal, as far as possible, if they are well, while taking additional precautions to protect themselves from infection and to lessen the risk of spread to others.”

In the event of a widespread outbreak in the UK, health officials would be able to call on police resources to help ensure an orderly compliance with any quarantine measures.

Officers have been handed additional powers to force those at risk of contracting the coronavirus into quarantine, and the measures have been put in place with immediate effect.

Under the legal powers, police can use reasonable force, if necessary, to detain those who may be contaminated with the virus.

The regulations were brought in after one of the 93 Britons quarantined in Arrowe Park Hospital, Birkenhead, threatened to abscond.

Under the restrictions, any person deemed at risk of spreading the virus could be held against their will, forcibly assessed, and detained for a two-week period.

There are no immediate plans to consider military involvement in efforts to contain COVID-19.

But emergency planners at the Ministry of Defence are keeping the situation under review and have well-rehearsed plans to provide expert military assistance, should the need arise.

Any moves to restrict travel into the UK are not under consideration, even in the midst of a more serious outbreak.

Research by health officials found that even a 90% reduction in air travel into the UK would not prevent a more serious outbreak and would likely only delay it by a couple of weeks.

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