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expert reaction to reported news that UK nationals will be evacuated to the UK from Wuhan and quarantined for 14 days

UK nationals will be evacuated to the UK from Wuhan and quarantined for 14 days upon their return.


Prof Mark Harris, Professor of Virology, University of Leeds, said:

“The plans for an organised quarantine of people evacuated from Wuhan makes much more sense than a proposal that people would quarantine themselves.  There is now very good scientific evidence that the incubation period before symptoms appear can be as long as 14 days, in addition there is some limited evidence of spread from people who are not yet showing symptoms.  Both of these issues highlight the need for quarantine.  Although there are appropriately some concerns raised about the human rights issue, these need to be considered in the light of the wider risk to the population of the potential spread of the virus.  Restricting person-to-person contact is the most effective way of preventing this spreading.”


Prof Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology, University of Nottingham, said:

Comment on quarantine of evacuated UK nationals:

“Given the level of coronavirus infection, it makes sense to quarantine and test people being evacuated form Wuhan City.  But we might lose sight of the fact that the outbreak seems more widespread than that and at some time, probably soon, a decision will have to be made about all Britons located in Hubei Province and China in general, especially if the virus outbreak continues to escalate.  If these people also need to be brought back, then the task in hand would probably become unmanageable.”

Comment on case numbers in China:

“The rapidity of this outbreak is startling and certainly much more rapid than SARS.  The reasons for this are unclear, but clearly the larger the outbreak grows the more difficult it becomes to contain it using usual infection control measures – identifying then isolating infected people and tracing and monitoring their contacts.

“At the moment, virus that has been exported from China to other countries has not led to significant onward transmission, although the identification of infected individuals in some of those countries that have not had direct contact with China is concerning as it reminds us that the virus has the capability of being passed on.

“There are still too many unknowns – the true scale of the problem, the frequency of symptom-less infection, the amount of transmission that occurs by people with and without symptoms, the extent at which infected individuals have travelled and their destination – to be certain.  It is certainly possible for this virus to become widespread and eventually become just another circulating human respiratory virus, but it’s still very early days and with little onward transmission in other parts of the world, this might not happen.  If this scenario did play out, however, then we need to get a better handle on the relative frequency of severe disease and death so that healthcare structures are able to deal with it.”


Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton, said:

Comment on quarantine of evacuated UK nationals:

“The quarantine will be precautionary.  Over 100 tests have been carried out in the UK so far with all of them negative for coronavirus infection.  However, this new restriction may reflect the increase in cases in China over the last 24 hours, and ongoing concern about cases coming into the UK and the potential for person-to-person transmission.”

Comment on case numbers in China:

“This is a different type of coronavirus, compared to what we saw with SARS, so it will behave a little differently.  Here, there have been more cases in China, but so far with a lower death rate than the SARS outbreak.  A pandemic is typically called by the World Health Organisation after there has been sustained transmission across many countries.  Though there have been cases reported in several countries now, we’re not quite at that stage of sustained transmission yet.”


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


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