Coronavirus: Rescue plan ‘considered’ for Britons trapped on cruise


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Media caption“There are contingency plans if things get worse,” says NHS Confederation chief Niall Dickson

The Foreign Office is “considering all options” for Britons trapped on a quarantined cruise liner in Japan struck by coronavirus – including flying them home.

Earlier, some of the 74 UK passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess said they felt “forgotten”, as other countries flew citizens home.

The ship was quarantined on 3 February.

Meanwhile, a hotel at Heathrow Airport has been block-booked to isolate arrivals suspected of having the virus.

On Monday, Japanese officials said there were 99 new cases of infections on board the ship, bringing the total to 454 confirmed cases. It is the largest cluster of cases outside China.

It emerged that about 3,700 passengers and crew could be stuck in quarantine beyond the initial 19 February deadline.

A Number 10 spokesman said: “We sympathise with all those caught up in this extremely difficult situation.

“The Foreign Office is in contact with all British people on the Diamond Princess, including to establish interest in a possible repatriation flight.”

He said the government is “urgently considering all options to guarantee the health and safety of those on board”.

Earlier, passenger David Abel called for the government to evacuate the British citizens on board and added: “It feels that we have been forgotten.”

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David Abel said he had little confidence the UK government would rescue him and his wife

It comes as all the rooms at the Holiday Inn Heathrow Ariel hotel were booked by the government to quarantine passengers displaying symptoms of Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

The move is expected mostly to apply to foreign nationals from the most affected countries who arrive in the UK showing symptoms, BBC health editor Hugh Pym said.

The rooms will be used to isolate suspected cases while test results are awaited.

Meanwhile, NHS leaders said they believed the health service was able to cope with the coronavirus.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals and other trusts, said “the system is under enormous pressure” but the NHS is “very used to dealing with emergencies of all kinds”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There are contingency plans if things got worse.”

The Department of Health said at 14:00 GMT on Monday that 4,501 tests had been carried out in the UK so far – an increase of 1,392 on the previous day – with nine positive results.

Eight of those who contracted the virus have since been discharged from hospital after two negative tests showed they were now clear of the infection.

All 94 people who had been in quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral have also been released, NHS England said on Saturday.

They had been kept in isolation at the hospital after returning to the UK from Wuhan in China, the centre of the outbreak.

More than 100 people remain in isolation in Milton Keynes after being repatriated back to the UK on a later rescue flight.

‘No need for school closures’

However, schools are being told they do not need to close or send staff or pupils home if there is only a suspected case of coronavirus, rather than a positive test.

Guidance to be published by Public Health England on Monday says no restrictions are needed while tests are carried out.

If tests are positive, health protection teams will speak to the head teacher and action will be taken.

The advice comes after some schools in Brighton told concerned parents they can choose to keep their children away from school as an authorised absence, even if a coronavirus case is only suspected.

PHE says that it will continue to advise people who have been in close contact with a confirmed case to self-isolate.

It is believed to have advised at least seven schools in Brighton, Hove and Eastbourne that a member of staff or pupil should stay at home for 14 days.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus and what can help stop its spread?

The main signs of infection are fever (high temperature) and a cough as well as shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

Frequent handwashing with soap or gel, avoiding close contact with people who are ill and not touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands can help cut the risk of infection.

Catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue, binning it and washing your hands can minimise the risk of spreading disease.

Anyone experiencing symptoms, even if mild, after travelling from mainland China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau, is advised to stay indoors and call the NHS 111 phone service.

What is the government doing?

The main focus is on rapidly identifying people with the disease and taking them to specialist hospitals for treatment in isolation.

They are then tracing anybody who has come into close contact with the patient to make sure they know the signs of the disease and what to do.

The coronavirus death toll in mainland China rose by 105 to 1,770, in figures announced early on Monday morning.

Chinese authorities also reported the number of new cases had increased slightly on the previous day’s figure after falling for three consecutive days.

A total of 2,048 new cases were reported across the country on Monday – 1,933 of which were from Hubei.

More than 70,500 people nationwide have already been infected by the virus.

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