British coronavirus evacuee who was ‘taken ill’ on last flight out of Wuhan

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This is the British evacuee who was taken ill on last night’s rescue plane from coronavirus-hit China and whisked to a separate hospital for tests. 

Anthony May-Smith, from Lichfield, Staffordshire, developed a cough and sore throat on the second repatriation flight out of the outbreak’s epicentre Wuhan, where he had been visiting his girlfriend.

He was isolated from the rest of the passengers and rushed to an NHS hospital in Oxford when the plane landed at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire at 8pm. 

Mr May-Smith claims he ‘feels fine’ now but is being kept in isolation while medics await his test results tomorrow.

He told Sky News: ‘When we boarded the plane in France to come to the UK, the nurse asked if any of us had had any symptoms. 

‘I made myself known to her and she told me to sit away from anybody else on the flight. 

‘There were people with babies on the flight and I obviously just didn’t want to be anywhere near them.

‘I feel fine now, I think it’s probably the stress of getting back and being run down more than anything. ‘I’m waiting for the test results to come back tomorrow.’ 

Mr May-Smith said it is ‘a little bit daunting’ when medics enter his room as they wear a face mask, are ‘all covered up, [have]four pairs of gloves and wellingtons’. 

The other 10 British nationals continued their journey to join 83 other people in isolation at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral, Merseyside.    

It comes as the epidemic’s official death toll soared overnight by 57 to 361 cases in China, plus one in the Philippines. 

Chinese authorities reported 2,829 new cases over the last 24 hours, taking infections to above 17,450 worldwide. 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘During the most recent repatriation flight one passenger developed mild, cold-like symptoms. 

‘Following the agreed protocol, this individual was further separated from others on the flight and after landing was taken by ambulance to a specialist NHS facility for further assessment. 

‘The remaining passengers remain symptom-free and have been taken to Arrowe Park. They will be kept entirely separate from the first group of British nationals to arrive. 

‘Our robust processes continue to ensure there is no risk to the wider public from those in quarantine or those undergoing further treatment.’ 

It is understood Mr May-Smith wore a face mask on the flight. Public Health England conducted a risk assessment before the plane door was opened, and confirmed the other 10 passengers could be allowed off the plane. 

The Department of Health said on Monday that 326 UK tests for coronavirus have concluded, of which 324 are negative. 

An internal email from Janelle Holmes, chief executive of Arrowe Park, seen by the Liverpool Echo, said Mr May-Smith ‘immediately self-isolated’ and was taken to a separate NHS hospital when the plane landed. 

The email, sent to staff at the Merseyside hospital, read: ‘Dear all, as you know, we were expecting a further 11 people, repatriated from Wuhan in China, to arrive and join you in the accommodation block at Arrowe Park Hospital last night.

‘During the flight, one of the passengers started to feel slightly unwell, and self-isolated immediately. Upon landing, that passenger remains isolated, and was taken to another NHS hospital for tests. We expect test results in the coming days, and will keep you updated.

‘None of the other 10 patients have shown any symptoms, but as a precautionary measure the 10 new guests were allocated rooms in a separate area of the facility, isolated from those already here.

‘As we have previously said, staff supporting those in the accommodation block are following strict clinical guidance and protocols to ensure everyone remains safe.’  

It comes after the Foreign Office warned it cannot guarantee to bring home an estimated 30,000 Britons still trapped in China.

Stranded expats been told to make their own way back to Britain despite many major airlines suspending all flights to mainland China until March. 

The Government said it would not be sending any more evacuation flights, but it may be able to shoehorn small numbers of Britons onto other EU rescue planes. 

The British embassy in Wuhan has been closed and the Foreign Office started pulling diplomats and their families from the disease-hit region last Friday. 

Ministers warned on Sunday: ‘In the event that the situation deteriorates further, the ability of the British embassy and consulates to provide assistance to British nationals from within China may be limited.’

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said British officials were ‘working tirelessly on the ground in China to make sure we can get the information to those that need it’.   

The group that arrived last night were pictured being driven by bus drivers without any protective clothing – sparking fears the Government is not taking the threat of an outbreak seriously. 

A baby being carried in a cot was among the passengers, the images show.

The highly contagious infection can spread via a simple cough, sneeze or handshake and the virus can live on inanimate objects such as door handles. 

One of the first wave of evacuees, PE teacher Kharn Lambert, said the group were in ‘good spirits’ despite being cooped up in the Merseyside hospital. 

Mr Lambert has lived in Wuhan for the last five years and was being visited by his 81-year-old grandmother, Veronica Theobald, when the outbreak occurred. 

They arrived at the hospital on January 31 as part of the first group of 83 British evacuees. 

He told Sky News’ Kay Burley on Monday: ‘It’s quite weird being home but not being home, and also being locked in – almost like being back in Wuhan really – where we can’t get outside certain perimeters and go further, so it’s a bit of a weird feeling really.’ 

Mr Lambert said that, out of the original group, no-one was showing any coronavirus symptoms or complaining about feeling unwell. 

‘Everybody is in good spirits,’ he said. ‘As you can imagine, it’s not the best of circumstances but we’re all trying to keep our spirits high. 

‘We’re playing jokes on each other, we’re having a laugh when we have the chance to see each other.’ 

Members of staff at the hospital could be seen unloading children’s toys as well as games consoles when preparing for the first group of arrivals on Friday. 

‘Most of this stuff is coming from donations from people on the Wirral just to keep us entertained really,’ Mr Lambert said. 

Mr Lambert said he has not seen the new arrivals and believes they are currently being housed away from the other people in quarantine. 

Mrs Theobald, from Lancaster, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and her grandson previously said he was worried about the impact of the outbreak on her. 

After the long journey back to the UK, Mr Lambert said his grandmother was recovering from the trip and added: ‘I spoke to her late last night and she’s in good spirits again.’ 

He later praised the staff taking care of the evacuees in the hospital accommodation block. He said: ‘They’re all being told to wear protection, ie masks and gloves, when they’re in the communal areas. 

‘They’ve been absolutely fantastic since the moment we arrived and we can’t thank them enough for everything they’re doing for us at the moment.’ 

He added that he would wait for advice from the British and Chinese governments about returning to his job at a school in Wuhan. 

Health officials in Britain are still scrambling to trace 438 people who entered the UK from Wuhan in the last two weeks.   

More than a third of the 1,561 passengers and aircrew who arrived before the city was quarantined by the Chinese authorities last month remain unaccounted for.  

A University of York student and their relative remain the only two positive cases of coronavirus recorded in the UK. 

The university’s dedicated helpline for people with concerns about the virus received more than 240 calls by Sunday afternoon. 

In a statement on Sunday, University of York vice-chancellor Professor Charlie Jeffery and representatives from the Chinese Students and Scholars Association said the student did not attend a university Chinese New Year celebration or recent graduation ceremonies. 

They said as soon as the student’s relative showed symptoms, they contacted emergency services and were both taken to the specialist medical facility in Newcastle, where they were diagnosed with the virus.   

The first group of British evacuees landed in Oxfordshire before being whisked 170 miles to the North West in a convey of buses driven by drivers who bizarrely did not wear face masks.

Ben Kavanagh was among those taking to social media last night to share their experiences of arriving at the hospital.

He posted a picture of himself wearing a mask to Instagram with the caption: ‘We are all now safe in quarantine.

‘Everyone has been fantastic, the airline, the stewards/stewardesses, the bus drivers, the NHS. 

‘Been travelling for 40 hours. I am mostly grease at this point. I will try to reply to everyone’s kind messages tomorrow.’

The rest of the groups identities remain closely guarded by Public Health England, but many who missed out on Thursday’s airlift have since been critical of the government that they were denied a spot.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: ‘The Government is in touch with British nationals who remain in Wuhan, and are doing everything we can to bring them home as safely and quickly as possible.’ 

As infection rates soared over the weekend, the Philippines recorded the first death from coronavirus outside of China.

The country’s department of health said a 44-year-old Chinese man from Wuhan was admitted on January 25 after experiencing fever, cough, and sore throat.

He developed severe pneumonia, and in his final days, ‘the patient was stable and showed signs of improvement, however, the condition of the patient deteriorated within his last 24 hours resulting in his demise.’

The man’s 38-year-old female companion, also from Wuhan, first tested positive for the virus and remains in hospital isolation in Manila. 

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte approved a temporary ban on all travellers, except Filipinos, from China – a country which now faces increasing global isolation following the deadly outbreak.

The US and Australia, with eight and twelve confirmed cases respectively, are leading nations in imposing Chinese travel bans.

The virus has now spread to more than two dozen nations, sending governments scurrying to limit their exposure.

Indonesian officials in extensive safety gear were pictured hosing down students with disinfectant as they arrived home from China.

A plane repatriating 250 French and European nationals from China’s Wuhan, centre of an outbreak of a new coronavirus, landed at a military airbase in Istres, southern France, on Sunday.

Many countries are working with China to repatriate citizens from Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province.

About 65 French nationals will be quarantined either at a holiday resort at Carry-Le-Rouet, in the south of France, or at a firefighters’ training centre near Aix-en-Provence, Secretary of State for Child Protection Adrien Taquet told reporters.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the French plane was carrying nationals of 30 countries, and that most non-French would travel on to their home countries.

Meanwhile a 1,000 bed hospital in Wuhan has opened its doors to Coronavirus patients just ten days after construction first began.

Huoshenshan Hospital includes isolation wards, specialised venting systems and infrared scanners designed to detect the virus.

The 600,000 square foot facility was built by a 7,000-member crew of carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other specialists.

Workers wore surgical masks as they cleared a riverside plot and assembled prefabricated rooms shipped to the quarantined city.

The new hospital is staffed by 1,400 doctors and nurses from the People’s Liberation Army, the Communist Party’s military wing.

The Chinese government previously constructed a specialised hospital in Beijing in just a week to combat the 2003 SARS epidemic.

A second 1,500-bed hospital is due to open later this week as the Coronavirus death toll rose to more than 360 this weekend.

Someone who is infected with the Wuhan coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.

At least 170 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 8,000 have been infected in at least 18 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:

 

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 is currently named 2019-nCoV, and does not have a more detailed name because so little is known about it.

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 seeing 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 4,500.

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 30, the number of deaths had risen to 170 and cases were in excess of 7,500. 

Nobody knows for sure. 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 the virus in Wuhan 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.

Bats are a prime suspect – researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences said in a recent statement: ‘The Wuhan coronavirus’ natural host could be bats… but between bats and humans there may be an unknown intermediate.’

And another scientific journal article has suggested the virus first infected snakes, which may then have transmitted it to people at the market in Wuhan.

Peking University researchers analysed the genes of the coronavirus and said they most closely matched viruses which are known to affect snakes. They said: ‘Results derived from our evolutionary analysis suggest for the first time that snake is the most probable wildlife animal reservoir for the 2019-nCoV,’ in the Journal of Medical Virology.

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.’

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.

Once someone has caught the virus it may take between two and 14 days 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.

 

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, yesterday 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.

The virus has so far killed 170 people out of a total of at least 7,900 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 date. If cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the virus may be far less dangerous than currently believed.

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.

 

The Wuhan coronavirus 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, 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.

   

The outbreak has not officially been confirmed as either an epidemic or a pandemic yet. This is likely because, despite the global concern, the number of people who have been confirmed to be infected is still relatively low.

A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.

An epidemic is when a disease takes hold of a smaller community, such as a single country, region or continent.

 

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