Arrowe Park guard claims staff are ‘held to RANSOM’ by patients


Quarantined patients evacuated from coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan have been holding staff to ransom by threatening to leave unless they are plied with food and alcohol, it is claimed.

Security workers inside Arrowe Park hospital, currently home to 93 Britons who are being kept in isolation after arriving in the UK on January 31, say they are ‘getting whatever they want.’

One guard claimed bosses at the former nurses accommodation in the Wirral decided to bring in chefs after the evacuees moaned about the quality of the food – and they have kept the unit stocked with beer, wine and spirits.

He also revealed how one patient ‘got drunk’ and threatened to break out but was told he would have to pay for his food and the flight he took back from China, so he dropped his demands.

The government today invoked new powers to stop the threat of walkouts by making it illegal for anyone in coronavirus quarantine to try and leave before they have been given the go-ahead by doctors.

The law-change was announced after a patient staying at Arrowe Park tried to leave before completing the 14-day stay after his return from China. It now means they can be arrested for committing an offence if they flee.

A security guard at the site said this morning before the new powers were announced: ‘The patients know they can just threaten to leave and get whatever they want.

Security guards at the Arrowe Park hospital today, where new steel fencing has been erected around the perimeter

Security guards at the Arrowe Park hospital today, where new steel fencing has been erected around the perimeter

Workers could be seen carrying metal fencing at Arrowe Park hospital today

Workers could be seen carrying metal fencing at Arrowe Park hospital today

Arrowe Park Hospital, the isolation facility in the Wirral, where Britons evacuated from Wuhan in China have been staying

Arrowe Park Hospital, the isolation facility in the Wirral, where Britons evacuated from Wuhan in China have been staying

Two quarantined patients are seen looking out of a window at the isolation facility in Arrowe Park Hospital, Wirral, Merseyside. Their two weeks of isolation is expected to come to an end on Thursday

Two quarantined patients are seen looking out of a window at the isolation facility in Arrowe Park Hospital, Wirral, Merseyside. Their two weeks of isolation is expected to come to an end on Thursday

‘They were complaining that the food was rubbish so they’ve got their own chefs and everything.

‘They’ve had staff taking them spirits in and other alcohol because they can hold them to ransom.’ 

‘One patient got drunk and threatened to leave so the police told him that if he left he’d have to pay for his flight and all the food and everything else he’d had, so he soon shut up.’

The new rule comes as England today announced its fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth cases of the virus – all of the three men and a woman are linked to the fourth patient.

A total of five people have now been diagnosed in Brighton. The four new cases have been linked to the first man who was diagnosed there after returning from the Alps

The government today invoked new powers to stop the threat of walkouts by making it illegal for anyone in coronavirus quarantine to try and leave before they have been given the go-ahead by doctors. Pictured: Arrowe Park hospital today

The government today invoked new powers to stop the threat of walkouts by making it illegal for anyone in coronavirus quarantine to try and leave before they have been given the go-ahead by doctors. Pictured: Arrowe Park hospital today

The fourth patient was a businessman who returned to the UK from a conference in Singapore via a ski chalet in France, where other Britons were subsequently taken ill with the virus.

The Department of Health today declared the outbreak a ‘serious and imminent’ threat to the British public as it announced new powers to fight the spread.

Matt Raw, who is originally from Knutsford, Cheshire, but moved to Wuhan last year, is one of the patients currently in quarantine.

The former locksmith said this morning the 93 Britons currently quarantined in the unit in Birkenhead are due to be swabbed today to test for the virus.

Matt added: ‘Nobody is showing symptoms we are due to be given a swab inside the mouth today to test for the virus, there was no real point in doing it because if any of us did have it it wouldn’t have shown up because we are all asymptomatic.

Police officers patrol the quarantined area outside Arrowe Park Hospital in the Wirral last week

Police officers patrol the quarantined area outside Arrowe Park Hospital in the Wirral last week

Kharn Lambert, speaking to This Morning today, says no one inside the isolation facility has shown any symptoms of the coronavirus

Kharn Lambert, speaking to This Morning today, says no one inside the isolation facility has shown any symptoms of the coronavirus

‘Now we have been here for nine days so even though we are still asymptomatic, doing that swab would mean it would potentially show up because it’s so close to the crucial 10 day incubation period.

‘I don’t know who tried to leave. I know that one of the concierges here actually left his ID card in his car and security wouldn’t let him leave, thinking he was one of us. That was a couple of nights ago that they mistook him for a patient.

‘Who would want to leave in this weather anyway?

‘Ultimately, we are going to be allowed out in a couple of days if everything goes ok with the swab today.

‘I imagine we will get the results of the swab reasonably soon because they will need to inform us if anyone has it before we leave.’

Kharn Lambert described life inside Arrowe Park hospital in The Wirral as ‘pretty mundane’ and said ‘everyone is in good health’ and they hope to be allowed home on Thursday.

Kharn Lambert described life inside Arrowe Park hospital in The Wirral as 'pretty mundane' and said 'everyone is in good health'

Kharn Lambert described life inside Arrowe Park hospital in The Wirral as ‘pretty mundane’ and said ‘everyone is in good health’

Mr Lambert who travelled with his grandmother Veronica Theobald –  out visiting him in Wuhan when the outbreak took hold – told ITV’s This Morning that staff at the facility have been ‘absolutely fantastic’ and have ‘gone out of their way to do things for us.’ 

He said: ‘Everybody here is in good health, nobody’s showing any symptoms of the virus which is good news for us, which means hopefully we can go home on Thursday. 

‘But you know we just have to ride it out and see what happens in the next few days.’

Mr Lambert, a PE teacher who was living in Wuhan, said life inside has been ‘pretty mundane’, and revealed a girl inside the facility had been celebrating her sixth birthday, and staff brought in a birthday cake for her.

Kharn Lambert, a PE teacher based in China , spoke from China two week ago where he told of how he worried about leaving his home for fear of catching ‘a deadly virus’

Kharn Lambert, a PE teacher based in China , spoke from China two week ago where he told of how he worried about leaving his home for fear of catching ‘a deadly virus’

The view inside one of the rooms used to quarantine some 83 Britons at Arrowe Park Hospital

The view inside one of the rooms used to quarantine some 83 Britons at Arrowe Park Hospital 

He said: ‘The routine’s been the same every day – wake up, breakfast, get dressed, have a chat with a few guys, lunch, maybe watch a bit of TV in the afternoon, dinner, and then just relax in the evening, and it’s pretty much the same routine every day.’

Speaking about the evacuation flight from Wuhan on January 31, he described it as ‘chaos’, saying they were not given clear information.

He said: ‘It was chaos really, it was a very very long journey, it was almost 40 hours, and the information we were getting wasn’t very clear.   

The Britons infected with coronavirus – and the patients ill in the UK

Cases in the UK and where they are being cared for:

Newcastle: Two Chinese nationals who came to the UK with coronavirus and fell ill while on the tourist trail in York

London: British super-spreader who picked up virus in Singapore, flew to ski break in France and then back to the UK where he went to the pub in Hove before feeling ill last week.

One adult who was in the same chalet with the super-spreader, feared to be Dr Catriona Saynor who flew to Britain for medical exams.

Four people in Brighton – all in the same chalet, confirmed to have coronavirus this morning. 

Total: Eight 

British expats and holidaymakers outside the UK 

Majorca: A British father-of-two who stayed in the ski resort tested positive after returning to his home in Majorca. His wife and children are not ill.

France: Five people who were in the chalet with the super-spreader. These include the chalet’s owner, environmental consultant Bob Saynor, 48, and his nine-year-old son. They are all in a French hospital. 

Japan: A British man onboard a cruise ship docked at a port in Japan tested positive for coronavirus, Princess Cruises said. Alan Steele, from Wolverhampton, posted on Facebook that he had been diagnosed with the virus. Believed to be on his honeymoon, Steele said he was not showing any symptoms but was being taken to hospital.

Total: Seven 

‘We were asking questions as to where we might be going when we arrive in the UK and even the officials that were dealing with us didn’t even know.

‘The only information we had was from the media that we were coming to the Wirral. But there was no concrete information from the officials that we were actually coming here so it was all up in the air, even til the moment we landed. 

Patients inside Arrowe Park have been given games consoles, televisions and radios to keep them entertained and there is a pool table in one communal area. 

They are also allowed into a small fenced-off courtyard for fresh air, but the perimeter is being patrolled by police to stop them leaving.

Over two weeks ago Mr Lambert spoke from his home in Wuhan, describing the ‘blanket of fear’ hanging over the place where coronavirus first broke out. 

He told the BBC: ‘If you saw the street behind me at night time where I normally live, it’s a very vibrant street, lots of restaurants and it’s open until 2am and Chinese families come to celebrate.

Asked if a ‘blanket of fear’ was looming above Wuhan, he told the BBC: ‘100 per cent.’   

Other developments today include: 

  • A chef at a pub in Hove only found out the infected businessman had visited and that his colleagues were ‘self-isolating’ when he read it online
  • A Brighton health centre has been closed after four more cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the city
  • London’s FTSE 100 weakened after Mr Hancock declared the coronavirus outbreak a serious and imminent threat to public health
  • Nearly 100 people died from coronavirus in China yesterday on the deadliest day of the six-week outbreak so far 
  • Amazon and Sony are the latest companies to pull out of this month’s Mobile World Congress, due to be held in Barcelona, because of the coronavirus outbreak  
  • Sixty-six more passengers on a cruise ship in Japan have been diagnosed the killer infection, taking the ship’s toll to around 136
  • A woman in coronavirus -ravaged Wuhan has been accused of deliberately spitting at her neighbours’ door handles after her building was quarantined

The first 83 Britons evacuated from Wuhan should have completed 14 days in quarantine on Saturday after they landed at RAF Brize Norton on Friday, January 31.

More than 40,000 people have been infected with the virus and 910 are confirmed to have died, all but two of them in China

More than 40,000 people have been infected with the virus and 910 are confirmed to have died, all but two of them in China

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the new measures ‘are considered as an effective means of delaying or preventing further transmission of the virus.’

Arrowe Park Hospital in Merseyside and Kents Hill Park in Milton Keynes are now designated as ‘isolation’ facilities. 

There are currently 93 UK citizens at Arrowe Park and 105 in Milton Keynes. Another man, who felt ill on a China evacuation flight, is being kept in isolation at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. 

Nobody who was evacuated from Wuhan is known to have brought the virus back with them – all cases in the UK so far have been among others who travelled to Asia or came into contact with people who did. 

HOW HAS THE VIRUS SPREAD? 

The vast majority of confirmed infections of the Wuhan coronavirus have been diagnosed in China.

But more than 25 countries or territories outside of the mainland have also declared infections: 

  • Belgium: 1 case, first case February 4 
  • Spain: 2 case, first case January 31 
  • Sweden: 1 case, first case January 31 
  • Russia: 2 cases, first case January 31 
  • UK: 8 cases, first case January 31 
  • India: 3 cases, first case January 30 
  • Philippines: 3 cases, first case January 30 
  • Italy: 3 cases, first case January 30
  • Finland: 1 case, first case January 29
  • United Arab Emirates: 7 cases, first case January 29 
  • Germany: 14 cases, first case Jan 27
  • Sri Lanka: 1 case, first case Jan 27
  • Cambodia: 1 case, first case Jan 27
  • Canada: 7 cases, first case Jan 25
  • Australia: 15 cases, first case Jan 25
  • Malaysia: 18 cases, first case Jan 25
  • France: 11 cases, first case January 24
  • Nepal: 1 case, first case January 24
  • Vietnam: 14 cases, first case Jan 24
  • Singapore: 43 cases, first case January 23
  • Macau: 10 cases, first case Jan 22
  • Hong Kong: 36 cases, first case January 22 
  • Taiwan: 18 cases, first case Jan 21 
  • USA: 12 cases, first case January 20
  • South Korea: 27 cases, first case January 20
  • Japan: 156 cases, first case January 16
  • Thailand: 32 cases, first case January 13

A spokesman for the Department of Health said this morning: ‘Our infection control procedures are world leading and the NHS is well prepared to deal with novel coronavirus.

‘We are strengthening our regulations so we can keep individuals in supported isolation for their own safety and if public health professionals consider they may be at risk of spreading the virus to other members of the public.

‘This measure will rightly make it easier for health professionals to help keep people safe across the country.’

The announcement comes as a British ‘super spreader’ is feared to have infected at least seven others with the coronavirus, prompting the emergency testing of hundreds of people on his flights, ski break and even his local pub. 

The businessman is at the centre of a web of cases stretching across the UK, France and Spain after he apparently contracted the virus during a four-day trip to Singapore for a sales conference for gas analysis company Servomex.

The man in his fifties then jetted from south-east Asia to the Alps to ski in Les Contamines-Montjoie in late January where two more Britons became infected despite the ‘super spreader’ not having any cold or flu-like symptoms.

Britain’s health authorities have also contacted 183 passengers and six crew on an Easyjet flight then taken by the unnamed man from Geneva to London, warning that they could be infected. 

Staff at the pub where the ‘super spreader’ is a drinker are furious with health chiefs and claim they only found out he was ill after reading it online.

Five workers at The Grenadier in Hove have been told to self-isolate for a fortnight after the gas salesman, in his fifties, went there for a pint on Saturday, February 1.

Public Health England told the Grenadier’s employees working on the night he popped in to stay at home for two weeks and said they are warning anyone who could be infected.

But other staff and drinkers there on a busy Saturday evening have claimed they learned of the development on Facebook or via the local paper, the Brighton Argus.

Kelly Fricker wrote on social media: ‘My ex-partner, my son and nephew all drink there and my nephew’s the chef and they hadn’t even heard about it’.

Elsewhere in Brighton, a health centre has been closed after four more cases of coronavirus were linked to the city.

Passengers disembark from a charter flight carrying Britons evacuated from Wuhan , China after it arrived at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire

Passengers disembark from a charter flight carrying Britons evacuated from Wuhan , China after it arrived at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire

Passengers, including a baby, disembark from a charter flight carrying Brits evacuated from Wuhan, China after it arrived at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire

Passengers, including a baby, disembark from a charter flight carrying Brits evacuated from Wuhan, China after it arrived at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire

The clinic was closed for urgent operational health and safety reasons. The County Oak Medical Centre closed on Monday morning.

And an East Sussex secondary schoolchild has also been told to stay at home for two week amid fears he came into contact with the so-called ‘super spreader’.

Officials have desperately tried to stop further spread with a cross-border hunt for all the hundreds of people he may have had contact with. 

Today nine Britons have been confirmed to have the killer virus – five in France, one in Japan, one in Spain and two in the UK. Two others in the UK are ill, but they are believed to be Chinese nationals holidaying in Yorkshire.    

More than 900 people have died and 37,000 have become infected since the outbreak began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has been placed in lockdown to curb the spread. 

Today's announcement by Matt Hancock (pictured) gives the Government greater powers to fight the spread of the virus, with eight confirmed cases in the UK

Today’s announcement by Matt Hancock (pictured) gives the Government greater powers to fight the spread of the virus, with eight confirmed cases in the UK

More than 100 Britons were placed in quarantine at a three-star hotel in Milton Keynes yesterday after another airlift from Wuhan.

Wearing masks and escorted by health staff in hazmat suits, the group flew from China to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

Public Health England is under pressure to reveal where the so-called ‘super spreader’ had been and the full extent of the numbers under observation.

The task has been made more difficult because the patient, from Hove in East Sussex, interrupted his return from Singapore to Britain by taking a four-day break in the French Alps.

The middle-aged man contracted the virus during a conference at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Singapore organised by Servomex, a British gas analytics company, more than two weeks ago. 

He then travelled to a ski chalet in Les Contamines-Montjoie, near Megeve, from January 24 to 28. He returned to Britain on an Easyjet flight on January 28 but fell ill after arriving in Britain. 

An easyJet spokeswoman said: ‘EasyJet has been notified by the public health authority that a customer who had recently travelled on one of its flights has since been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

‘Public Health England is contacting all passengers who were seated in the vicinity of the customer on flight EZS8481 from Geneva to London Gatwick on 28 January to provide guidance in line with procedures.

‘As the customer was not experiencing any symptoms, the risk to others on board the flight is very low.

‘We remain in contact with the public health authorities and are following their guidance.

‘The health and well-being of our passengers and crew is the airline’s highest priority.

‘All of the crew who operated have been advised to monitor themselves for a 14-day period since the flight in line with Public Health England advice. Note this happened 12 days ago and none are displaying any symptoms.’   

Elsewhere, 60 more people on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in the port of Yokohama have tested positive for coronavirus, Japan’s health minister has said.

There are now 130 confirmed cases on the ship, with officials previously saying 70 people had the virus among the 3,711 passengers and crew.

More than 3,600 people, including 78 British passport holders, are still in a 14-day quarantine on board the ship.

British honeymooner Alan Steele, who was transferred from the cruise liner to hospital in Japan with coronavirus, was said to be feeling well and in good spirits over the weekend.

In the UK, a University of York student and their relative are still being treated at the Royal Victoria Infirmary infectious diseases centre in Newcastle. 

Nearly 100 people died of coronavirus yesterday on the deadliest day of the outbreak so far. The death toll in mainland China rose by 97, taking the number of global fatalities to 910. 

Another 3,062 cases were reported in China yesterday – an increase of 15 per cent compared to Saturday which put an end to a series of daily declines.   

The latest surge in deaths is a setback to hopes that China’s drastic quarantine measures might be working. 

The rise in China’s death toll comes as millions of people return to work today after an extended Lunar New Year holiday. 

Roads in Beijing and Shanghai had significantly more traffic than in recent days and the city of Guangzhou was resuming normal public transport today.

However, the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said 60 per cent of its member companies were planning mandatory work-from-home policies.  

Businesses abroad have been affected, too – Amazon and Sony today became the latest companies to pull out of Mobile World Congress, scheduled to happen in Barcelona later this month, because of the coronavirus outbreak. 

The loss of both companies is another blow to one of the telecom industry’s biggest gatherings in Barcelona, which has already seen LG, Ericsson and Nvidia pull out.  

The organiser of the event, GSMA, has also banned any visitors from China’s Hubei province, of which the capital Wuhan is where the virus originated.  

The outbreak also continues to affect the economy – London’s FTSE 100 weakened this morning after the UK said the epidemic was a ‘serious and imminent threat’. 

The drop was consistent with Asian markets, where most indexes were down, after figures showed the coronavirus had killed more than 900 people.  

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE DEADLY CORONAVIRUS IN CHINA?

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

At least 910 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 40,640 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 Wuhan 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 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 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.

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 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. 

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.

There may have been an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human, researchers suggested, although details of this are less clear.

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 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. 

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, 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.

How dangerous is the virus?  

The virus has so far killed 910 people out of a total of at least 40,640 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 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.

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.