Families uneasy at proximity to coronavirus quarantine site

Families living near the Merseyside hospital being used to quarantine potential coronavirus cases have said they are concerned and confused as dozens of evacuated Britons were taken to the NHS facility.

The 83 British passengers on the chartered flight from Wuhan to RAF Brize Norton were expected to arrive on Friday evening at Arrowe Park hospital in Wirral, where they will stay in staff accommodation and be monitored around the clock for 14 days.

Public Health England said there was no risk to wider members of the public, including to other patients at the hospital.

What is the virus causing illness in Wuhan?

It is a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals, or possibly seafood. New and troubling viruses usually originate in animal hosts. Ebola and flu are examples.

What other coronaviruses have there been?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals.

What are the symptoms of the Wuhan coronavirus?

The virus causes pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. If people are admitted to hospital, they may get support for their lungs and other organs as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those who have died are known to have been already in poor health.

Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?

Human to human transmission has been confirmed by China’s national health commission. As of January 30, the death toll in China stands at 170, with 7,711 confirmed cases of infections. In the past week, the number of confirmed infections has more than tripled and cases have been found in 13 provinces, as well as the municipalities of Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Tianjin. The virus has also been confirmed outside China, in Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the US, and Vietnam. There have been two confirmed cases in the UK. The actual number to have contracted the virus could be far higher as people with mild symptoms may not have been detected. Modelling by WHO experts at Imperial College London suggests there could be as many as 100,000 cases, with uncertainty putting the margins between 30,000 and 200,000.

How worried are the experts?

There were fears that the coronavirus might spread more widely during the week-long lunar new year holidays, which start on 24 January, when millions of Chinese travel home to celebrate, but the festivities have largely been cancelled and Wuhan and other Chinese cities are in lockdown.

At what point should you go to the doctor if you have a cough, say?

Unless you have recently travelled to China or been in contact with someone infected with the virus, then you should treat any cough or cold symptoms as normal. The NHS advises that there is generally no need to visit a doctor for a cough unless it is persistent or you are having other symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing or you feel very unwell.

Should we panic?

No. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. It increases the likelihood that the World Health Organization will declare the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern on Thursday evening. The key concerns are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital.

Sarah Boseley Health editor and Hannah Devlin 

None of the people in quarantine have tested positive for coronavirus, but any who display symptoms will be taken to the nearby Royal Liverpool University hospital, which has a high-level infectious diseases unit.

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However, some residents expressed concern about the proximity of the quarantine site to their homes and questioned whether the busy hospital would be able to cope with the additional pressure.

Del Willden, 53, said he had nothing but praise for hospital staff and was pleased the evacuees had returned safely from China. But he added: “My concern is for the hospital. This is my local hospital and I know and have experienced the struggles they suffer on a daily basis.

The 83 Britons were bussed 170 miles to Arrowe Parke hospital from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

The 83 Britons were bussed 170 miles to Arrowe Parke hospital from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

“Although we have been told there will be no disruption to the medical staff at the hospital, how can they guarantee that should there be an outbreak? It could prove catastrophic for the staff and patients.”

Willden questioned why the patients were not accommodated nearer to RAF Brize Norton, 170 miles away in Oxfordshire, where their Foreign Office-chartered flight landed on Friday lunchtime.

One family in Archers Court, one of the closest residential streets to Arrowe Park, said they were leaving home for two weeks due to their concerns about the quarantine facility. “We’re trying to move to London because of this,” said one resident, carrying his eight-month-old baby while packing belongings into a car.

“The main concern is we don’t know how the quarantine will work,” said the man, who did not wish to be named. “We are concerned because we’ve got families here. If we received precautions and a mask we wouldn’t move [but now] even going outside might be a risk. The only time we received any news was on television last night – it was short notice for us.”

His partner, who also did not wish to be named, said she had tried to buy protective masks from the hospital pharmacy but they had sold out. A member of staff confirmed they had had an “influx of demand” and stock was not expected until next week.

Margaret Greenwood, the Labour MP for Wirral West, said constituents had written to her expressing concerns but that she had been assured by Matt Hancock, the health secretary, that it was unlikely any of those being held in quarantine carried the virus.

“People are concerned,” she said. “Arrowe Park hospital is a very big employer; a lot of people work there. There’s people coming in and out of all the time. Obviously people are concerned because of what they’ve seen on their television.”

Trolleys containing PlayStations, Xboxes and children’s toys such as Barbie dolls were seen being wheeled into the premises on Friday afternoon. Some of the toys were aged one to three years, suggesting families with small children may be kept in isolation.

Staff who live in the blocks were seen carrying belongings into removal vans while specialist cleaners and fire safety officers entered the accommodation. Fencing with tarpaulin was erected behind the building, which backs onto a country park and golf course.

It is understood that those quarantined will be given fully furnished rooms, food and laundry facilities, and kitchens are available. Families will be able to stay together and there will be no charge for the accommodation.



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