Health Secretary Matt Hancock warns there is 'increased likelihood' of coronavirus arriving in UK

THE health secretary has warned that there is an ‘increased likelihood’ that a new virus which has killed 17 people in China will spread to the UK.

Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 2:11 pm
Updated Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 2:24 pm

Matt Hancock told MPs that the NHS is ‘ready to respond appropriately’ to any cases of coronavirus that emerge in the country.

In a statement to the Commons on Thursday, he said that while ‘there is an increased likelihood that cases may arise in this country, we are well prepared and well equipped to deal with them’.

China suspended all flights, including international services, out of Wuhan city - the epicentre of the virus outbreak – on Wednesday night.

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Passengers wear protective face masks at the departure hall of the high speed train station in Hong Kong. Picture: (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Another city close to Wuhan, Huanggang, is also on lock-down as officials try to contain the spread of the virus.

Mr Hancock told MPs there had been 571 cases of coronavirus and 17 deaths confirmed by the Chinese government.

He said: ‘This is a rapidly developing situation and the number of deaths and the number of cases is likely to be higher than those that have been confirmed so far, and I expect them to rise further.’

He told how cases of the virus have also been reported in Thailand, Japan, South Korea and the US.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

Mr Hancock said ‘most people’ affected have experienced cold and flu symptoms, though some cases have proved fatal.

‘We have been closely monitoring the situation in Wuhan and have put in place proportionate, precautionary measures,’ he said.

‘Since yesterday, Public Health England officials have been carrying out enhanced monitoring of direct flights from Wuhan city and all passengers on direct flights from China will receive information on what to do if they fall ill.’

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The People's Daily newspaper in China also reported Hong Kong has had its first confirmed case of the illness.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has updated its travel advice for China, with a spokesman saying: ‘In light of the latest medical information, including reports of some person-to-person transmission, and the Chinese authorities' own advice, we are now advising against all but essential travel to Wuhan.

‘The safety and security of British nationals is always our primary concern and we advise British nationals travelling to China to remain vigilant and check our travel advice on’