Many more people in the UK may need to self-isolate in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus, the chief executive of the NHS has said.
Sir Simon Stevens issued the warning as more than 80 people quarantined at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral are about to leave following 14 days in isolation.
The group were the first to be flown out of Wuhan city in China – the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak – by the Foreign Office and back to the UK.
Sir Simon said: “As our first group of guests leaves Arrowe Park Hospital, we want to thank them for the highly responsible, pragmatic and stoical way they have played their part in keeping both themselves and others safe.
Our Chief Executive Simon Stevens thanks all NHS staff involved in the care of Arrowe Park Hospital guests, and highlights the ways we can prevent the spread of infection. #ThankYouNHS#Coronavirushttps://t.co/SjMYbs6Zmnpic.twitter.com/y2Yvx5Aimr
— NHS England and NHS Improvement (@NHSEngland) February 13, 2020
“They have set an important example, recognising that over the coming weeks many more of us may need to self-isolate at home for a period to reduce this virus’s spread.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said those quarantined had been given a clean bill of health and people “can be reassured that their departure presents no risk to the public”.
Earlier, England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said officials were working on delaying the spread of coronavirus cases throughout the UK.
He said what happens with coronavirus – also known as Covid-19 – could go one of two ways, with the first scenario seeing the Chinese government getting on top of the epidemic and then a limited impact on the rest of the world.
While it is “highly likely” the UK will see more cases, it is possible the epidemic will go away, possibly aided by a change in the seasons which could dampen the spread of the virus, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Prof Whitty said: “The alternative is that it’s not possible to contain in China and this then starts (to spread) – probably initially quite slowly – around the world and then unless the seasons come to our rescue, then it is going to come to a situation where we have it in Europe and the UK in due course.”
Prof Whitty said the current UK strategy was focused on containment of individual cases, followed by delaying the spread.
He said: “Delay is the next stage of what we need to do because if we are going to get an outbreak in the UK – this is an if, not a when – but if we do, putting it back in time into the summer period, away from winter pressures on the NHS, buying us a bit more time to understand the virus better, possibly having some seasonal advantage, is a big advantage.”
Prof Whitty urged the public to keep doing sensible things to stave the spread of the virus – including washing hands with soap and water, covering their mouth when they sneeze and binning used tissues.
“What we should be doing is taking sensible precautions we would normally take in the winter season,” he said.
On Wednesday, Professor Neil Ferguson, an infectious disease expert from Imperial College London, said he thought the world was in the “early phases of a global pandemic”.
He suggested up to 60% of the UK population could become infected with a death rate of 1%.
Asked about a potential death toll, Prof Whitty said it was a mistake to use numbers which were speculative.
“At the moment the numbers we are seeing out of China are so variable that it is really difficult to put a fixed figure,” he said.
On Wednesday evening, the UK’s ninth case of cornavirus was confirmed in London.
The unnamed woman, who is being treated at a specialist NHS centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’, contracted the virus in China.
Reports suggest she flew into Heathrow Airport and self-isolated once she developed symptoms.
Update on #coronavirus:
A further patient in England has tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the total number of cases in the UK to nine. The individual acquired the virus in China.
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) February 12, 2020
Several Chinese airlines are still flying to Heathrow, including Air China from Beijing, China Southern from Guangzhou, Shenzhen Airlines from Shenzhen, China Eastern from Shanghai, Beijing Capital Airlines from Qingdao and Tianjin Airlines from Xian.
Meanwhile, the number of deaths from coronavirus in China jumped to more than 1,350, with more than 60,000 recorded infections, as senior figures in Hubei province were dismissed amid criticism over the handling of the outbreak.
And 44 more people on quarantined cruise ship the Diamond Princess in Japan have tested positive for Covid-19 disease.
Two of those are Britons, taking the number of Britons on the ship diagnosed with coronavirus to three.
British couple David and Sally Abel, who remain on board the ship, said they have been given the option to leave and continue their quarantine ashore if they test negative for the virus.
In a video posted on Facebook, Mrs Abel said: “The Japanese health authorities have said if anyone tests negative they will be given the option to either stay on board and continue their quarantine on board, or they could go to a Japanese housing unit or something and do it there.
“But for us, if that was the case for us, we’re obviously going to be better off language-wise staying on board than we are if we go into some sort of facility run by Japanese.”
The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has warned that the outbreak “could still go in any direction”.
On Wednesday, Steve Walsh, the businessman linked to 11 British cases of coronavirus, including five in France, was given the all-clear and discharged from hospital.