Fears over the spread of coronavirus in the UK escalated yesterday as 763 people were tested for the disease in a single day.
They were tested the day after it emerged that a tourist in London became the ninth person in the country to be confirmed to have the disease, also called Covid-19. It raised concerns that the virus may already be on the London Underground.
It also emerged that the London patient had brought an Uber to the emergency room at Lewisham Hospital on Sunday evening, despite the advice saying to stay away from the hospital and to remain at home in isolation, call 111 and wait for transport. The Uber driver was temporarily suspended and two hospital agents who came into contact with the woman were told to self-isolate themselves.
The patient, who is around 20 or 30 years old, is a Chinese citizen who lives with her family in London and has caught the virus in China. She fell ill after arriving in Heathrow on the weekend. After being tested at Lewisham A&E, she was sent home for three days before the test turned positive.
Lewisham Hospital said that no other patient has come into contact with the woman who is now at St Thomas Hospital in central London, one of four UK patient care units across the country.
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Dr Robin Thompson of the University of Oxford said: “In general, if an initial case is located in a densely populated area, the risk of prolonged person-to-person transmission is greater. This is compounded by the fact that London is a hub. of transportation and the subway could provide a network to spread the virus quickly.
“As a consequence, given that this case was in London, one could expect that there is a greater risk than this case compared to the others we have seen.”
The death toll from the coronavirus epidemic in China has reached 1,380.
The National Health Commission said there were 121 deaths from the coronavirus strain, officially named Covid-19 by the World Health Organization, as the number of new cases has risen from 5,090 to 63,581.
The number of reported cases rose faster after the worst-affected province changed its counting method on Thursday.
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Hubei Province now includes cases based on a doctor’s diagnosis and before they have been confirmed by laboratory tests.
The Chinese health commission said that the change in counting methodology is aimed at identifying suspicious cases where the patient has pneumonia so that they can be treated more quickly and reduce the likelihood of more serious illness or death.
It has also been seen as the reflection of a chaotic crush of people seeking treatment and the struggle to keep up with a backlog of untested samples.
“Clearly in Wuhan, the healthcare system is under extreme pressure and therefore the patient’s first priority must be,” said Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh.
Elsewhere, Japan has confirmed another case, a 70-year-old Japanese man, one day after reporting his first death from the virus.
Japan now has 252 confirmed cases, including 218 from a cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama.
More than 560 cases have been confirmed outside mainland China and there have been three deaths, one each in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Japan.
In an unprecedented attempt to contain the disease, the Chinese government has put a block on the hardest hit cities – which are home to over 60 million people.
People are prohibited from entering or leaving cities and in many places they can leave their homes or residential complexes only for shopping and other daily needs.