In Brief

Coronavirus: 100,000 ‘may already be infected’

Public health expert says UK will get a case ‘sooner or later’

Many tens of thousands of people worldwide may already be infected with the coronavirus, a public health expert has warned.

Although there are only 2,000 confirmed cases, mostly in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Imperial College’s Professor Neil Ferguson told The Guardian that his “best guess” was that around 100,000 people are carrying the virus so far.

Ferguson, whose team have been modelling the Sars-like virus for the World Health Organization (WHO), said the number could be as high as 200,000 - and that the UK is all but certain to join the growing number of countries confirming cases of infection.

“Sooner or later we will get a case,” he said. “There are very large numbers of Chinese tourists across Europe right now. Unless the Chinese manage to control this, and I’m sceptical about whether that is possible, we will get cases here.”

The UK government has been accused of failing to respond to the danger quickly enough, but Home Secretary Priti Patel insisted yesterday that officials were taking “all precautions”.

Labour is calling on the Government to reassure the public that the NHS could cope with an outbreak.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “The NHS is currently under immense strain this winter with staff already working flat out and hospitals overcrowded. We need urgent reassurance from ministers they have a plan to ensure we have capacity in place to deal with coronavirus should we need to.”

Questions are also being raised over whether the Government will evacuate the estimated 200 Brits trapped in Wuhan, where the first case of the virus was reported in mid December. France, the US and Japan are already putting in place plans to get their citizens out, but Patel would only say that the UK authorities are “looking at all the options”.

A British expatriate living in Wuhan with his wife and four-week-old baby told The Times that he had yet to hear from the UK government. Adam Bridgeman said: “The French are organising some sort of bus service to get you out of Hubei province. But as far as I’m aware the British government isn’t doing anything like that. I haven’t had any contact from them - I would’ve expected some kind of email.”

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