Published: 12:58, 02 March 2020
| Updated: 14:47, 03 March 2020
The first case of coronavirus has been reported in Kent.
A business at Maidstone Studios confirmed one of its members of staff had tested positive for the deadly condition, now named Covid-19.
The employee, who had recently returned from Italy, was in the building last week and tested positive yesterday evening.
An email to staff at the Grove Green site, seen by KentOnline, said: "We have been advised this morning by one of our tenants that a member of their staff tested positive for the coronavirus yesterday evening.
"The member of staff had been in the building last week.
"They are monitoring the situation carefully and we have just been told that their staff have been advised to self-isolate as a precaution.
"We will be in touch as soon as we have any further information."
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Public Health England has declined to comment, referring all inquiries to the Department of Health.
The site opened in 1982 and describes itself as the largest independent TV studios and has been used to film Supermarket Sweep, Take Me Out and Trisha and was also the scene of the leaders debate, when Jeremy Corbyn took on Boris Johnson ahead of the General Election.
It also home to around 40 businesses.
The person who contracted the virus was located in the North East London Foundation Trust NHS office suite on the first floor.
All members of the NELFT team have vacated the site.
Tesco and Lloyds Pharmacy in Grove Green, less than half a mile away from Maidstone Studios, have both completely sold out of hand sanitiser.
Boots, Superdrug, Wilko, and Poundland in Maidstone town centre have also run out of stock.
Meanwhile Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Faversham has emailed parents to advise a family member of some of its students has tested positive for the virus. The relatives and another student have self-isolated for 14 days.
Other students who may have had secondary contact are following health advice.
The letter said: "The students affected are self-isolating and will continue to do so over a 14-day period, although it is worth noting they have not displayed any symptoms and are currently well.
"The individual who had been diagnosed is recovering well."
It is thought both incidents relate to the same case as it has been confirmed there is only one patient in Kent.
Companies based at the TV Studios site include Pillory Barn, Vidertech Ltd and Red Button Medicare.
A staff member from Red Button Medicare said: "I think all the businesses have been sent an email informing them what's happened.
"I was told about it this morning. We are all still here while we're just waiting to see what happens. We have no idea what will happen at the moment."
They added: "I'm not too worried right now because it's a really big building."
ITV Meridian is one of the company's affected and all 10 of its members of staff at the site have been sent home.
Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust declined to say whether they were treating the victim and referred all inquiries to the Department of Health.
A number of businesses at the scene are continuing to work as normal and have not been told to evacuate, however the works canteen has been closed.
Construction workers laying bricks on a housing site next to the studios immediately decided to leave when they heard the news.
Gerry Langan, 42, and his colleagues were told the news an hour ago by journalists at ITV Meridian.
Gerry and his nine colleagues decided to leave their work on new builds and they don’t know if they’ll be back tomorrow.
He said: “It spreads quickly and everyone has got children. No one has told us what’s going on and we are trying to find out ourselves.”
A mum has also decided to leave the block of flats which overlooks the studios.
Sharon Hilgenge and her daughter, Chantelle, of Valley Heights, Whatman Drive, left the site to stay with family.
Ms Hildenge found out from builders who are working on nearby houses, that a person working at the studios had contracted the disease.
She said: “I have got a low immune system at the moment. I have got an infection at the bottom of my spine and my immune system is down. I can’t fight on both fronts.”
A mum with two children under three who lives in a flat overlooking the studios says she is “extremely worried” about the situation and has decided to flee her home.
Gemma Lawrence, 23, has lived in Valley Heights, Whatman Drive for 10 months.
She said: “Obviously you hear all about it but you never think it’s going to be so close to home as next door. Obviously I wouldn’t want to get it but I’m more worried for the children.”
Her eldest, Logan is two-and-a-half and her youngest Mia-Rose is only nine months.
Miss Lawrence only found out about the confirmed case through a news article online and residents had not been told by the studios.
“We are completely in the dark,” she said, and is leaving to stay with her mother in Hunton.
There is no filming taking place at the studios today, but this is because none was scheduled and is not related to the case.
Likewise, there is no filming due to take place for the rest of the week, but for the same reason.
Meanwhile, one person working at Maidstone Studios suffering from flu-like symptoms says she has been told to stay at home for two weeks on the off-chance she may have come in contact with the person who has the coronavirus.
She worked in the same building as the person affected so called the NHS 111 service for advice and was told to self isolate.
But the woman, who wished to remain anonymous, says it is "ridiculous" the health service won't come out and test her so she can get the all-clear - or warn those she's come into contact with if she has the virus.
"There are 35 cases in the UK and one of them is where I work, but they won’t come out and test me," she said.
"I’m isolated now and cannot go anywhere - it just doesn’t seem right.
"There are 50 of us in the building and we all come in and go out all the time.
"I have been around hundreds of people when shopping, touched things, and handed over money.
"I'm not getting the help and support I need.
"What do we do about food?"
Meanwhile, a Kent theatre has cancelled a stage show tonight as tests are carried out on cast members linked to the county's first confirmed coronavirus case.
Italy, where the patient had returned from, is at the centre of Europe's outbreak and has recorded more than 1,000 cases of the virus, which has killed 3,000 and infected 90,000 globally. The mortality rate is estimated at 1%, whereas influenza is 0.1%.
More than 13,900 people have been tested for the virus so far with more than 50 confirmed cases.
All four new patients have returned from Italy. As well as the case in Kent, there is one in Hertfordshire and two in Devon.
The Department of Health would not say whether the four were known to each other or had returned from the same part of Italy.
Specialists from Public Health England (PHE) are working with Kent County Council and NHS colleagues following a confirmed case of Coronavirus in Kent.
The person is now in a treatment centre in London.
Dr James Mapstone, Acting Regional Director, Public Health England South of England, said: “Public Health England is contacting people who had close contact with one of the latest confirmed cases of COVID-19. The case is a resident of Kent and had recently travelled to Italy.
"Close contacts will be given health advice about symptoms and emergency contact details to use if they become unwell in the 14 days after contact with the confirmed case.
"This tried and tested method will ensure we are able to minimise any risk to them and the wider public.”
Kent County Council’s Director of Public Health, Andrew Scott-Clark, said: “I’d like to reassure people that the risk to the general public remains low and we are working with health colleagues to do everything we can to stop the virus spreading and ensure the people of Kent are protected.
“If you have not been contacted by Public Health England as a close contact of the confirmed case you do not need to take any action at this time.”
Health and local authorities are appealing for people to follow national Government guidance to prevent further spread of the illness and limit the numbers affected.
This guidance includes taking basic hygiene precautions as the best way of significantly reducing the chances of spreading any virus: sneeze or cough into a tissue, bin it, wash your hands frequently and don’t touch your face unless you’ve just washed your hands.
Mr Scott-Clark added: “These are the same simple steps we all should be taking to avoid other illnesses such as flu which is also prevalent during the winter and it is important that residents help protect themselves and others.
“If you have recently travelled to an affected area or been in contact with someone who has, and you think you have symptoms associated with the coronavirus, you should not go to A&E or your doctor but self-isolate yourself at home and ring NHS 111 which has an online coronavirus service that can tell if you need medical help and advise you what to do.”
The symptoms include a cough, a high temperature and shortness of breath.
It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson held an emergency COBRA meeting this morning about the virus. After the two-hour briefing he said the country was "very, very prepared" and that more information will be released tomorrow.
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.
What happens now?
Medical professionals will now carry out a process of contact tracing which which involves finding out who else may be affected by a virus.
The World Health Organisation says the first stage is to identify people the infected person came into contact with. This is done by asking about activities and the roles and activities of people around them, since the onset of the illness.
Efforts will be made to identify every listed person and to inform them of their contact status, what it means and the actions that will follow and the importance of getting early care if they develop symptoms.
In some cases quarantine or isolation will be required for high risk contacts.
Regular follow ups will be carried out to check people, monitor any symptoms and test for signs of infection.
More by this authorEd McConnell
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