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Coronavirus: Government holds emergency COBRA meeting about Covid-19

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As coronavirus spreads across the UK and with the first case recorded in Kent today, the government has held a crisis meeting to discuss its approach to epidemic.

In a Cobra meeting which began at 10.30am Prime Minister Boris Johnson was briefed on updates regarding the outbreak which has killed more than 3,000 globally and infected almost 90,000.

Coronavirus cases in the UK had reached 36 by March 1
Coronavirus cases in the UK had reached 36 by March 1

Health Secretary Matt Hancock had previously said it was "inevitable" the virus would spread to more people in the UK and that the government was prepared to close off whole cities Wuhan-style.

Initial reports had suggested the meeting may result in large planned events being axed to halt the spread but Mr Johnson's update upon the meeting ending just after 12.20pm was far less dramatic.

Instead he warned it the threat is "likely to become more significant" across the UK, adding: "We have a plan for if and when it spreads as it looks likely it will... It is important that people go about their business as usual... we are very, very well-prepared".

Downing Street says they will publish its plans tomorrow.

The World Health Organisation has declared coronavirus - now called Covid-19 - a global health emergency but stopped short of calling it a pandemic - which would mean it had spread throughout the world.

The organisation has also advised people over 60 or with underlying health conditions to avoid crowded places.

Covid-19 originated in Wuhan
Covid-19 originated in Wuhan

In Italy, the centre of the outbreak in Europe more than 1,000 people have been diagnosed while Iran has seen more than 50 deaths - the greatest number outside China.

Last week, a first British person died from the virus. The man in his 80s had been on board the Diamond Princess and passed away in Japan.

Meanwhile the first case of a person catching the virus in the UK was also confirmed.

In Kent, Sevenoaks Hospital's minor injuries unit was temporarily closed because of a scare on Saturday, while Tenterden's Homewood School told a group of pupils to stay at home after they returned from a skiing tip in northern Italy.

Event organisers throughout the county said large scale events will go ahead as planned unless they receive advice to the contrary.

A Port of Dover spokesman said: “The Port of Dover continues to take advice from Public Health England regarding the Coronavirus and the risk to the maritime industry is currently low. Along with the rest of the transport sector, we are distributing government health advice to the travelling public to raise awareness of the symptoms and will continue to monitor the situation.”

Covid-19 spreads from infected people to those within six feet through coughs and sneezes and can also be transmitted via contact with surfaces.

It attacks two cells in the lungs causing breathing difficulties and bringing on pneumonia.

A commercially available vaccine - of which there are 20 under production - will only be available in a minimum of a year.


How outbreaks have spread throughout history

Ever since man existed, it has been prone to diseases spread from person to person and, as suspected in the latest coronavirus outbreak, from animals to humans (zoonotic).

The emergence of civilisation and close-knit communities has created a breeding ground for epidemics and, along with the ease and expansion of global trade and travel, pandemics.

Malaria, smallpox, tuberculosis and influenza first made an appearance more than 10,000 years ago.

In the 14th Century, the Black Death was responsible for killing a third of the world's population, having moved west from Asia and rapidly decimating populations in its path.

Animals were thought to be the cause of the Great Plague of London in 1665 which contributed to the deaths of 20% of the capital's population. Dogs and cats, believed to be the source, were slaughtered as a result.

The outbreak weakened its grip during the Great Fire of London a year later.

The first significant flu pandemic emerged in Siberia in 1889 and steadily moved across Europe claiming more than 350,000 lives in just over a year.

Although Spain gets the notorious name-check, the virulent 1918 outbreak of Spanish Flu originated in China and resulted in around 50 million deaths worldwide.

Asian flu began in Hong Kong in 1957 and became widespread in England and Wales where around 14,000 people died over six months.

A mutated gene of the same flu virus is believed to have been the cause of another outbreak in 1968. Hong Kong Flu, as it was called, originated in China and killed at least 1 million people worldwide.


Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (better known as SARS) is also caused by a type of coronavirus which is largely believed to have stemmed from bats. The World Health Organisation first recognised it at the end of February 2003. Fears of a major pandemic were short lived, but not before 8,000 cases and 800 deaths were recorded by July of the same year.

Swine Flu - or H1N1 - emerged in 2009. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 575,000 people died worldwide as a result of infection and, although the pandemic officially ended in August 2010, the virus continues to circulate seasonally.

Four strains of Bird Flu, or Avian Flu, have caused concern in recent years; H5N1 since 1997; H7N9 since 2013; H5N6 since 2014 and H5N8 since 2016. However, the NHS says while a number of deaths have been recorded globally, none have been reported in the UK.

An Ebola outbreak in 2014-16 in West Africa was the largest since the virus was first discovered in 1976.

A resurgence of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) occurred in 2018-19 with an average fatality rate of around 50%, according to the WHO. The death toll surpassed 1,000 in just nine months during the last outbreak which was classified as a public health emergency of international concern.

To keep up-to-date with all the latest developments with your local hospitals and other health stories, click here.

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