The UK looks set for more widespread infection of coronavirus as more cases occur among people with no links to overseas outbreaks, a senior Public Health England (PHE) official has said.
Professor Paul Cosford, emeritus medical director of PHE, said more cases could be challenging for the UK and it was important to reduce the spread of infection.
Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Prof Cosford said: “The extent of infection we are seeing in other countries suggests it is likely that we will see more widespread infection in the UK and that is what we have to be prepared for.
“We should expect at times that might be quite challenging for us, it is therefore very important that we do everything we can to reduce the spread of infection.
“At the moment, the vast majority of cases we see in the UK are still linked to countries where there is more widespread infection, either in Italy or South East Asia.
“It is true to say there is a small number now where it is much more difficult to find that link, and that is leading us to think we may well see more widespread infection in the UK fairly soon.
“It could happen in the next few days or it could take a little longer.”
Prof Cosford was also interviewed for Radio 4’s Today programme, where he said it was increasingly likely there would be more widespread transmission.
He also called on the public to take simple steps such as washing their hands and throwing away used tissues.
Prof Cosford said: “I think the increase in number that we are seeing, coupled with the increases in countries nearby in Europe and of course in South East Asia, do make it much more likely we will get more widespread transmission in the UK.
“It’s still the case that the vast majority of the cases we’ve got in the UK, we can trace a link to countries where there’s infection and people returning from those countries, but we’ve not been able to identify that in every single case now, so that’s something we are looking at extremely carefully to understand where the source of those infections may be.
“I think we now have to expect there to be more widespread infection in the UK that we will need to deal with.
“We’ve got to be prepared for that, we’re not there yet but we’ve got to be prepared for it, and it will give us some challenges.”
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He said, however, that it was important that people remembered the infection was mild in most cases.
“The vast majority of people will make a recovery from it and it is a relatively mild illness,” he said.
“Children and otherwise healthy adults seem to be at much lower risk of getting into serious complications you get with this sort of disease.
“It’s older people and people with severe underlying conditions that we will be particularly concerned about.”
He warned that there will come a point “where we reduce social contact if we see more widespread transmission”.
Asked whether it was OK still to offer handshakes, he said he thought so.
But he said the next stage of dealing with the outbreak could involve asking “people to isolate themselves at home if there’s a member of their family who’s infected”.
He added: “We may well get to a position where we say carry on going to school, carry on going to work but if you can work from home that’s a very sensible thing to do, and think of all the different ways you can reduce your social contact outside of those activities.”