Coronavirus poses a serious and imminent threat to public health in the UK, the government declared as it introduced new powers to forcibly quarantine people for their own safety.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said the tougher regulations were “an effective means of delaying or preventing further transmission” of the illness. His department also designated Arrowe Park Hospital in Merseyside and Kents Hill Park conference centre as “isolation” facilities.
However, the government said that the risk level was still classed as “moderate” and that the new legal measures were designed to “make it easier for health professionals to do their job”.
The death toll from coronavirus in China has now reached 900, surpassing the number of fatalities from Sars in the 2002-2003 outbreak. Four people have tested positive for the illness in the UK, while five British nationals have tested positive in France and one in Majorca. A total of 791 people in the UK have tested negative.
On Sunday another plane carrying people evacuated from the coronavirus-hit city of Wuhan landed at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on Sunday morning. The passengers – 105 British nationals and family members as well as 95 European nationals and family members – were taken to the Kents Hill Park hotel and conference centre in Milton Keynes to begin 14 days in quarantine.
Meanwhile 78 UK passport holders were among more than 3,600 people stuck on board the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess in the Japanese port of Yokohama. There are now 130 confirmed cases on the ship.
On Monday morning the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement: “In light of the recent public health emergency from the novel Coronavirus originating from Wuhan, the secretary of state has made regulations to ensure that the public are protected as far as possible from the transmission of the virus.
“In accordance with Regulation 3, the Secretary of State declares that the incidence or transmission of novel Coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health, and the measures outlined in these regulations are considered as an effective means of delaying or preventing further transmission of the virus.”
The regulations mean people with coronavirus can be forcibly sent into isolation if they pose a threat to public health and will not be free to leave quarantine.
“We are strengthening our regulations so we can keep individuals in supported isolation for their own safety and if public health professionals consider they may be at risk of spreading the virus to other members of the public. This measure will rightly make it easier for health professionals to help keep people safe across the country,” a spokesman for the health department said.
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