The coronavirus ‘isolation pods’ in Britain’s hospitals: NHS sets up windowless shipping containers and rusty portacabins as a NINTH case is diagnosed in the UK
- NHS hospitals have all been told they must have the isolation pods on site
- People thought to have coronavirus can phone specialist medical teams there
- Photos show rusty portacabins and shipping containers being set up
- Ninth case of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, was diagnosed in England last night
- Worldwide, more than 60,000 people have been infected and 1,369 have died
Makeshift coronavirus isolation ‘pods’ have emerged at hospitals across England as the country is on high alert for new cases of the illness.
A ninth person was diagnosed last night, in London, and scientists and authorities expect there to be more infections in the coming weeks and days.
The NHS has ordered all hospitals to set up the isolation booths so they can send people there if they are suspected to have the coronavirus, named SARS-CoV-2.
Pictures show rusty portacabins and windowless shipping containers being used for the purpose on the grounds outside of hospitals’ main buildings or in car parks.
Health service bosses said there must be facilities in placer to keep suspected patients away from the general public while they’re assessed over the phone by medics.
Hospitals in Hartlepool, Stevenage, Preston, Blackpool, Eastbourne, Brighton and Bournemouth have been seen with the pods outside.
It comes as the recorded number of cases in China surged overnight to around 60,000 and 1,369 people have died.
A portacabin is being used as an isolation pod at Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester
At Eastbourne District General Hospital, windowless shipping containers at the side of what appears to be a road in the hospital grounds are used
A crane delivers a portacabin to University Hospital of North Tees, where it will be used as a coronavirus isolation pod
Blackpool Victoria Hospital has attached a sign to a permanent building, indicating that suspected coronavirus patients should go there
A letter sent from NHS England to hospital directors two weeks ago instructed them all to have the pods up and running by Friday, February 7.
It said: ‘As part of managing care in Emergency Departments, trusts are being asked to organise a “Coronavirus Priority Assessment Pod”, which will mean people with symptoms indicative of infection will get quick assessment, while other patients also continue to get appropriate care.’
The letter said the pod must have a phone which is available 24 hours a day so worried patients can speak to a specialist response team at any time.
There must also be clear signs and posters directing people the the pod so they don’t have to come into contact with staff – people will not be allowed to just wander into the pods but must be referred there first.
What is this virus?
The virus has been identified as a new type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens, most of which cause mild lung infections such as the common cold.
But coronaviruses can also be deadly. SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is caused by a coronavirus and killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in the early 2000s.
Can the Wuhan coronavirus kill?
Yes – 1,369 people have so far died after testing positive for the virus.
What are the symptoms?
Some people who catch the Wuhan coronavirus may not have any symptoms at all, or only very mild ones like a sore throat or a headache.
Others may suffer from a fever, cough or trouble breathing.
And a small proportion of patients will go on to develop severe infection which can damage the lungs or cause pneumonia, a life-threatening condition which causes swelling and fluid build-up in the lungs.
How is it detected?
The virus’s genetic sequencing was released by scientists in China and countries around the world have used this to create lab tests, which must be carried out to confirm an infection.
Delays to these tests, to test results and to people getting to hospitals in China, mean the number of confirmed cases is expected to be just a fraction of the true scale of the outbreak.
How did it start and spread?
The first cases identified were among people connected to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan.
Cases have since been identified around China and are known to have spread from person to person.
What are countries doing to prevent the spread?
Countries all over the world have banned foreign travellers from crossing their borders if they have been to China within the past two weeks. Many airlines have cancelled or drastically reduced flights to and from mainland China.
Is it similar to anything we’ve ever seen before?
Experts have compared it to the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The epidemic started in southern China and killed more than 700 people in mainland China, Hong Kong and elsewhere.
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The letter added: ‘If either admission or testing is deemed to be necessary then NHS 111 will contact the local A&E, on their red phone, to advise of the patient’s location, and pass on patient contact details to arrange arrival instructions.
‘The Pod will need to be decontaminated in accordance with PHE guidance following each NHS 111 assessment.’
The pods are designed to keep people who suspect they may be carrying the virus away from vulnerable people.
The elderly and people with long-term illnesses such as heart disease, lung conditions or diabetes are particularly at risk of coronavirus turning deadly.
Posters have been put up outside hospitals to direct patients to the coronavirus pods if they need to get there.
And there are also signs inside A&E departments to make sure the patients don’t go the wrong way and wander among the public.
Once in a pod, the patient can call a dedicated response team who will determine the risk of infection based upon their recent travel and interactions.
People who develop flu-like symptoms after returning from China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore or Malaysia have all been told to stay at home and not meet anyone if they start to feel ill.
These are considered to be the countries most at risk.
Meanwhile, dozens of Britons who were rescued from the Chinese city of Wuhan amid the coronavirus outbreak are to be freed today after two weeks in quarantine, as a woman in London became the ninth person to test positive for the illness.
Eighty-three people will leave Arrowe Park Hospital in Merseyside on Thursday, 14 days after they arrived on an evacuation flight.
All of the group – who had signed a contract agreeing to the quarantine period – have tested negative for the virus.
It comes after a ninth UK case was confirmed on Wednesday evening – the first instance of coronavirus in London.
The patient, who is now being treated at a specialist NHS centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ in the capital, got the virus in China, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said.
As with the previously confirmed cases, officials are working to identify recent contacts she had.
Kharn Lambert, one of the quarantined patients in Merseyside, told the PA news agency ahead of the release: ‘I’m ecstatic and I’m so happy that everyone has come back with negative test results.’
The NHS said the pods must have clear signage directing people to the isolation pods. Pictured, the area at Eastbourne District General Hospital in East Sussex
Medics have been equipped with protective clothing to help reduce the chance of spreading the highly-contagious virus. Pictured, a team at Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton
Workmen are pictured during the construction of the Royal Sussex County Hospital’s special construction of a coronavirus area
A coronavirus sign is seen at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton
During their time in quarantine one of the group had threatened to abscond from the isolation unit, prompting the Government to announce new legal powers allowing people with the illness to be forcibly quarantined, and forcibly sent into isolation if deemed to pose a threat.
The evacuated group’s release comes a day after Steve Walsh, the businessman at the centre of the UK outbreak of coronavirus, was given the all-clear and discharged from hospital.
Mr Walsh, a 53-year-old scout leader from Hove in East Sussex, contracted coronavirus on a business trip to Singapore – and is linked to five other people diagnosed with it in the UK.
On his way back to the UK from Singapore, he stopped off at a ski region in France, where five other Britons were subsequently infected with coronavirus, now also known as Covid-19.
Mr Walsh is also linked to a Briton taken ill in Majorca, taking the number of confirmed cases linked to him to 11.
A patient has been admitted to a clinic at St Thomas’s Hospital in London. The patient picked up the virus while in China according to England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty
The World Health Organisation (WHO) cautioned that while the number of newly confirmed cases reported in China has stabilised, it remains a threat.
‘This outbreak could still go in any direction,’ director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a briefing on Wednesday at which he said the organisation is developing a ‘masterplan’ to tackle the virus, which will focus on diagnostics and treatments.
Dr Paul Cosford, from Public Health England, on Wednesday admitted more cases of coronavirus in the UK are ‘highly likely’ due to people returning after travelling abroad.
While researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) have estimated the number of new coronavirus cases in Wuhan could peak by the end of the month, the WHO said it is too early to make such a prediction.
Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, told the briefing: ‘I think it’s way too early to try and predict the beginning, the middle or the end of this epidemic.’
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE DEADLY CORONAVIRUS IN CHINA?
Someone who is infected with the coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.
At least 1,369 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 60,360 have been infected in at least 28 countries and regions. But experts predict the true number of people with the disease could be 100,000, or even as high as 350,000 in Wuhan alone, as they warn it may kill as many as two in 100 cases. Here’s what we know so far:
What is the coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.
The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.
Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.
The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.
Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals.
‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses).
‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’
The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.
By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.
The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000.
Just a week after that, there had been more than 800 confirmed cases and those same scientists estimated that some 4,000 – possibly 9,700 – were infected in Wuhan alone. By that point, 26 people had died.
By January 27, more than 2,800 people were confirmed to have been infected, 81 had died, and estimates of the total number of cases ranged from 100,000 to 350,000 in Wuhan alone.
By January 29, the number of deaths had risen to 132 and cases were in excess of 6,000.
By February 5, there were more than 24,000 cases and 492 deaths.
By February 11, this had risen to more than 43,000 cases and 1,000 deaths.
A change in the way cases are confirmed on February 13 – doctors decided to start using lung scans as a formal diagnosis, as well as laboratory tests – caused a spike in the number of cases, to more than 60,000 and to 1,369 deaths.
Where does the virus come from?
According to scientists, the virus has almost certainly come from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.
The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in the city, which has since been closed down for investigation.
Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat.
A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent similar to a coronavirus they found in bats.
However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.
Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.
‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’
So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it?
Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.
It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs.
Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.
Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.
‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’
If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die.
‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.
‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’
How does the virus spread?
The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.
It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky.
Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.
There is now evidence that it can spread third hand – to someone from a person who caught it from another person.
What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?
Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.
If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients – at least 97 per cent, based on available data – will recover from these without any issues or medical help.
In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.
What have genetic tests revealed about the virus?
Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world.
This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.
Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.
However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.
This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.
More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.
How dangerous is the virus?
The virus has so far killed 1,369 people out of a total of at least 60,367 officially confirmed cases – a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.
However, experts say the true number of patients is likely considerably higher and therefore the death rate considerably lower. Imperial College London researchers estimate that there were 4,000 (up to 9,700) cases in Wuhan city alone up to January 18 – officially there were only 444 there to that date. If cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the virus may be far less dangerous than currently believed, but also far more widespread.
Experts say it is likely only the most seriously ill patients are seeking help and are therefore recorded – the vast majority will have only mild, cold-like symptoms. For those whose conditions do become more severe, there is a risk of developing pneumonia which can destroy the lungs and kill you.
Can the virus be cured?
The COVID-19 virus cannot currently be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.
Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.
No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.
The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.
Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.
People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.
And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).
However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.
Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?
The outbreak is an epidemic, which is when a disease takes hold of one community such as a country or region.
Although it has spread to dozens of countries, the outbreak is not yet classed as a pandemic, which is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.
The head of WHO’s global infectious hazard preparedness, Dr Sylvie Briand, said: ‘Currently we are not in a pandemic. We are at the phase where it is an epidemic with multiple foci, and we try to extinguish the transmission in each of these foci,’ the Guardian reported.
She said that most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.
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