The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global emergency on January 30 after the number of confirmed cases spiked. there are now more than 20,000 people diagnosed with 2019- nCoV across 24 countries (latest) – 259 people have died and that number is expected to rise.

Two cases have so far been confirmed in the UK, although a planeload of UK citizens has been flown back from Wuhan and put into isolation in a residential block in Arrowe Park Hospital – even though they have exhibited no symptoms of the illness. Medical opinion differs on the threat posed by the virus which appears to be more contagious but less lethal than the SARS virus in 2003.

Isolation

People exhibiting the flu-like symptoms of the virus, which is related to the common cold, are advised to stay isolated and phone NHS 111 for advice rather than come to hospital. But with papers like the Daily Mail are whipping up concerns among their readers, some may decide to seek help from hospital A&E departments. The Wall Street Journal, warning of a similar potential threat in US emergency rooms, points back to the lessons from the SARS outbreak in Canada.

16-hour wait

“A Toronto man, whose mother had come from Hong Kong two weeks earlier, went to the hospital with feverish symptoms. “For 16 hours he was kept in a packed emergency department. “His virus infected the man in the adjacent bed, who had come to the ER with heart problems, and another man three beds away with shortness of breath.

“Those two other men went home within hours but were later rushed back to the hospital, where they spread the virus to paramedics, ER staff, other ER visitors, a housekeeper working in the ER, a physician, two hospital technologists and, later, staff and patients in the critical-care units.”

We clearly don’t want that type of thing happening again in Britain: so trying to avoid panic reactions and keeping a close watch on all A&E patients as they wait could be vital.

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