A number of constituents have asked me for an update on the COVID-19/Corona Virus.
Firstly, let me reassure you that the NHS is well prepared to deal with incidents like this, and I am assured that this Government has a clear path to ensure the public is protected. After the World Health Organization’s declared that this is a public health emergency of international concern, the UK Chief Medical Officers have raised the risk to the UK from low to moderate.
The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has announced strengthened legal powers to bolster public health protections against coronavirus. Regulations have been put in place to reduce the risk of further human-to-human transmission in this country by keeping individuals in isolation, in situations where public health professionals believe there is a reasonable risk an individual may have the virus.
This Government has a clear plan to combat the virus, with the contain, delay, research, and mitigate stages already in place. We are working closely with the G7, WHO and the wider international community to ensure we are prepared for all eventualities. Our approach has continuously been guided by the chief medical officer, working on the basis of the best scientific evidence possible.
This Government now have testing sites at all A and E facilities across England, and are planning to fully introduce home testing, which has already started, in order for people to not have to go to the pod in front of A and E, which was put in place to ensure people didn’t actually enter A and E with the virus. Home testing is the safest place to be tested, as people do not have to go anywhere, and that will allow us to roll out testing to a larger number of people quicker.
I have attended COBRA meetings over the past week on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions as Employment Minister, regarding operational matters and putting cross-government measures in place. I will continue to be updated through these meetings as and when they are convened.
I would advise everyone to take sensible precautions, including regularly washing hands with soap and hot water, using hand sanitizer after using public transport, as well as coughing or sneezing into disposable tissues. These are all measures that can significantly reduce the likelihood of infection. Furthermore, avoiding close contact with people who appear to have any of the coronavirus’ symptoms is advised.
For people returning from China, South Korea, Iran, or northern Italy (anywhere north of Pisa or Florence), please self-isolate and call NHS 111. If you believe you, or someone you know, have returned from one of these aforementioned countries, as well as Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Mynamar or Singapore, in the last 14 days with any of the symptoms of the coronavirus (cough, fever, or shortness of breath), they need to self-isolate, and call the NHS 111.
The UK is one of the first countries to have developed a world-leading test for the new coronavirus, and the NHS is ready to respond appropriately to any cases that emerge. Clinicians in both primary and secondary care have already received advice, covering initial detection and investigation of possible cases, infection prevention and control, as well as clinical diagnostics. The Government has also provided £20 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to produce a vaccine to combat coronavirus.
UK aid to the World Health Organisation (WHO) will help prevent the spread of the virus in developing countries, by supporting them to rapidly identify and care for patients with symptoms. Additional experts funded by UK aid will be deployed to the WHO to help coordinate the international response.