Britons returning from coronavirus-hit Italy told to self-isolate

UK government issues advice to people travelling from quarantine regions

People returning to the UK from quarantine zones in northern Italy should immediately self-isolate to stop the spread of coronavirus, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said.

The British government updated its guidance on Tuesday morning and suggests anyone returning from the region north of Pisa should avoid contact with others if they start to show flu-like symptoms.

Those entering the UK from areas quarantined by the Italian authorities – 10 small towns in Lombardy and one in Veneto – should follow the guidance, even if they do not have symptoms.

The health secretary said the government advice was in accordance with warnings from the World Health Organization that Covid-19 could become a pandemic.

“At present we don’t think there are any Brits in the area that’s been quarantined by the Italian government,” Hancock told Sky News. “But of course the government doesn’t track where people move around Europe, so if people are in that area they should get in contact and we will do what we can to help.”

The worsening situation in northern Italy was described as “very worrying” by Hancock, who said it was a significant outbreak with more than 200 people affected, including those who had died.

He said Britain was expecting cases of the illness and had been preparing. He will update the cabinet on Tuesday and hold a meeting with the Cobra emergency committee on Wednesday.

The Italian government has allowed regions to implement civil protection measures to stem the outbreak. In Lombardy, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Piemonte and Emilia Romagna, it has ordered a seven-day suspension of public and private events, schools and higher education facilities, as well as museums and cultural institutions.

Hancock said: “There is a good chance that we contain this at [the virus] sort of level, where the number of cases … is relatively low. The numbers of cases in China are coming down and we think that direction of travel is credible.

“But the problem is there are outbreaks elsewhere, like in Italy, Iran and South Korea, and so we are preparing in case this becomes a pandemic. But we are confident there’s a good chance of avoiding that, but we are taking a belt and braces approach.”

A total of 6,536 people have been tested in the UK, of which 6,527 were confirmed negative and nine positive. There are also four confirmed cases from the Diamond Princess cruise ship who arrived in the UK from Japan.

About 80% of people with coronavirus experience only mild symptoms, and children do not seem to be affected, except in a small number of cases, according to the health secretary.

China has reported 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths. Reports from Seoul in South Korea say 893 have been infected. Italy has 229 cases and seven deaths.

The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, told Sky News: “We are all worried. We shouldn’t panic but this is extremely serious. It’s not yet a pandemic … but clearly it is hugely serious and we have to be alert, we have to act.

“I’m not going to criticise or throw stones at the government. Broadly they’ve taken the correct approach. We know the amount of pressure our NHS is under at the moment – intense strain after years of cuts. If this hits us very badly, there are questions about whether our NHS has the resources to cope.”


Kate Proctor Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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