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Coronavirus is likely to be spreading undetected in the UK already, with health officials on the brink of moving into the phase of “delaying” rather than trying to “contain” transmission, the chief medical officer has said.

Chris Whitty, who is helping to lead the government’s response, said it was “likely, not definite, that we will move on to onward transmission and an epidemic here in the UK”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Whitty said the UK was almost in the second phase of the government’s strategy of trying to contain, delay, research and mitigate the virus.

“When I was here previously, we were firmly in contain stage. Now I think we are on the borderline between containing and delaying. But many of the things you do to contain it also delay it.”

A sign for a Coronavirus pod at University College Hospital (UCLH), London.

A sign for a Coronavirus pod at University College Hospital (UCLH), London. Photograph: James Veysey/REX/Shutterstock

Whitty gave his assessment as the government designated coronavirus a notifiable disease, which means some companies will be able to seek insurance compensation for coronavirus cancellations.

The move brings England into line with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland, which have already added coronavirus to their lists of notifiable diseases.

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Two cases of coronavirus in Scotland

Scotland’s health secretary Jeane Freeman has said that two more cases of coronavirus were confirmed overnight, taking the number of patients diagnosed in the country to three. She refused to give further details of the new cases in an interview with BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme.

Freeman said that evidence globally suggested that for the vast majority of those infected the symptoms would be “very mild”, but added that the advice was still to “self-isolate” in a bid to contain the virus.

“People has a conscience about it where they don’t want to infect others so our expectation is that the overwhelming majority of people will follow that clinical advice and stay at home”.

Freeman added that a power existed under the 2008 Public Health Scotland Act to apply for a court order “if someone has an infectious disease and will not follow clinical advice in order to make sure they are quarantined”. But she added: “That’s a very harsh power and we’re not at that point.”

Asked about Scottish government figures suggested a worst case scenario of 160,000 being hospitalised, she said that these numbers came from Chinese figures which were being refined and remodelled to fit the UK scenario, and said that not all of those people will require hospital treatment at the same time.

Freeman said that she was looking at capacity in the health service and aware of the need to create more headroom, in particular in areas such as where patients need high oxygen therapy. She said that she would be meeting with local authorities later on Wednesday “to ensure that people who are clinically ready to leave hospital are doing so as quickly as possible”.


The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Spain has risen to 167 after new cases were detected in Madrid (10 new cases) and Mallorca (two).

Meanwhile, Spain has also confirmed its first coronavirus fatality: a 69-year-old man who died in the eastern region of Valencia on 13 February. He is reported to have travelled to Nepal before falling ill. The coronavirus was detected during a postmortem examination.

On Tuesday, Spain’s health ministry ordered that football and basketball matches involving teams from affected countries be played to empty stadiums and advised that large medical conferences and events should be cancelled to free up health professionals so they can attend to the coronavirus emergency.


A fourth person – a 92-year-old man – has died in France after contracting the coronavirus; the health authorities have declared 212 confirmed cases in the country, a jump of 21 in 24 hours.

Jérôme Salomon, head of the country’s national health authority, said 13 regions are affected and there were three main clusters in mainland France: the largest in the Oise, north of Paris where there are 64 cases, the Haute-Savoie, 19 cases and four villages in the Morbihan, 12 cases.

There is a fourth cluster made up of people who took part in an organised trip to Egypt, 11 cases.

“The country has to hunker down. We are ready. I know we will know how to get through this, with strength and defiance,” President Emmanuel Macron told heath personnel running a crisis management centre on Tuesday evening.

The president announced that France would be requisitioning “all stocks and production of protective masks” so they could be distributed to health workers and those who have been diagnosed with the virus.

France’s health minister Roxana Maracineanu called representatives of sports federations to a meeting on Tuesday to examine “case by case” whether events should go ahead. The Paris-Nice bike race due to take place between 8-15 March is still on for the moment. The Champions League football match between Paris Saint Germain and Dortmund on 11 March is also still happening, but the authorities are considering whether the match should take place without supporters.


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