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Coronavirus: Serious outbreak in UK ‘almost certain’ with deaths expected, says chief medic | Politics News

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A serious coronavirus outbreak in the UK is “almost certain” with “some deaths” expected, England’s chief medical officer has told Sky News.

Professor Chris Whitty, who has been helping to coordinate the government’s planning for a potential COVID-19 epidemic, highlighted a six-week window in which the UK’s action could be stepped up.

Yesterday, the government set out its action plan for a mass coronavirus outbreak, including the deployment of the army and the refocusing of emergency services on only core tasks.



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Prof Whitty told Sky News’ Kay [email protected] show that Britons “may well” be required to take “more extreme action” in the longer term, but – for the moment – “we do not think people need to change what they’re doing in terms of their normal behaviour”.

“With all epidemics, what happens is they start off very slowly and then they gradually gather momentum and then they suddenly go up relatively fast,” he said.

The government and health officials are currently attempting to contain the spread of coronavirus – with the number of confirmed cases standing at 51 – and hope to push the worst of an outbreak into the summer months, when there is less pressure on NHS services.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty
Image:
Professor Chris Whitty is helping to coordinate the government’s response

Prof Whitty highlighted a six-week window before the spread of coronavirus could accelerate.

“If we get established transmission in the UK, which I think at this time is more likely than not, then there will be a number of weeks – about six weeks – until we start to see a significant amount of transmission in the UK,” he said.

“The key thing is we will need to do a variety of interventions, but we do not want to do them too early because we’ll then need to sustain them through the epidemic.

“So what we’re trying to do is plan to do them at exactly the right point to minimise social disruption but still manage to reduce the impact of this epidemic.”



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With coronavirus spreading across many countries, including in Europe, it is “fairly unlikely” the UK will escape a serious outbreak, Prof Whitty said.

He added: “It is almost certain there will be more cases in the UK, probably a lot more cases… and we would expect some deaths.”

Based on current data, there is a death rate of about 1% among all those who are infected with coronavirus, although this rate is lower among younger age groups and higher among the elderly.

But Prof Whitty stressed the “great majority” of elderly people or those with pre-existing health conditions – the two groups considered most at-risk – would not die if infected with coronavirus.

He also said the government is not advising people to wear face masks if they do not have the virus, as it does not significantly reduce the risk of being infected.

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The “most important” thing is to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with hot water and soap, he added.

Meanwhile, the government will formally register COVID-19 as a “notifiable” disease, which will help companies claim for compensation through insurance policies if they are affected by the virus.

A Department of Health and Social Care Spokesperson said: “We want to ensure any steps taken to protect the public during the COVID-19 outbreak are proportionate and do not come at an unnecessary social or economic cost.

“To mitigate the impact on businesses, we will register COVID19 as a notifiable disease.

“This will help companies seek compensation through their insurance policies in the event of any cancellations they may have to make as a result of the spread of the virus.”

Other global developments:

  • World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says about 3.4% of those diagnosed with COVID-19 have died
  • The World Bank has announced an initial $12bn (£9.3bn) to assist countries grappling with the health
    and economic impacts of the outbreak
  • Indian media reports 15 Italian citizens have tested positive for COVID-19 in India
  • Tajikistan shuts its borders to nationals of 35 countries including Britain, China, Japan, Iran and the US
  • France and Switzerland’s health ministers have asked citizens to consider dropping the everyday greeting of kissing each other on the cheek
  • Italian officials say the number of deaths of coronavirus patients in the country more than doubled in a 24-hour period to 79 overall, with the total number of confirmed cases of the disease rising to 2,502
  • There are than 93,100 confirmed and suspected cases globally, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the outbreak. It says there have been more than 3,190 deaths

Virus Outbreak: Global Emergency – Watch a special Sky News programme on coronavirus at 6pm weekdays

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