Nine schools in East Sussex testing staff or pupils for coronavirus

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Nine schools in East Sussex have said some of their pupils or staff are being kept in isolation and tested for coronavirus after concerns were raised that a Brighton man who tested positive for the disease may have passed it on to others.

Steve Walsh, who unknowingly contracted the disease on a business trip in Singapore before going on a ski trip where he is thought to have infected others, is being held in an isolation unit at St Thomas’ hospital in London. He was in the Alps with two GPs who have since tested positive for coronavirus in Brighton.


How can I protect myself from the coronavirus outbreak?

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the outbreak of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection. There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces. The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit – but not eliminate – the risks, provided they are used correctly.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised UK nationals to leave China where possible. It is also warning that travellers from Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand who develop symptoms of cough or fever or shortness of breath within 14 days of returning the UK should contact the NHS by phone.

Justin McCurry

Two GP practices were closed on Tuesday for cleaning over coronavirus fears, but are now open with some disruption to appointments. A spokesman for NHS Brighton and Hove CCG said all other NHS services in Brighton and Hove were open as usual, with measures in place to protect patients and staff.

Two families with children at Carden primary school in Brighton were told to self-isolate in an email issued by the school on Wednesday morning. The school is situated opposite the County Oak medical centre, which has been closed after a GP working there came into contact with Walsh.

The email from the school stressed that the families had been in contact with a “potential” case of the virus and not yet a diagnosed one.

Among the affected schools in Brighton is one of the area’s biggest secondaries. Varndean school has written to the parents of its 1,300 pupils, the Argus reported. Varndean said somebody connected to the school had been told by Public Heath England (PHE) to self-isolate for 14 days.

Quick guide

What is the coronavirus and should we be worried?

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. Many of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city.

What other coronaviruses have there been?

New and troubling viruses usually originate in animal hosts. Ebola and flu are other examples – 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 were already in poor health.

Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?

China’s national health commission has confirmed human-to-human transmission, and there have been such transmissions elsewhere. As of 12 February there are now 45,182 confirmed cases and 1,115 deaths. There are cases in 28 other countries outside China, with deaths recorded in one case in Hong Kong, and one case in the Philippines. The number of people to have contracted the virus overall could be far higher, as people with mild symptoms may not have been detected.

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK has doubled from four to eight after four more people in Brighton were diagnosed with the infection over the weekend.

One of the other four confirmed cases is being treated at the HCID unit at the Royal Free hospital in north London, and the two Chinese nationals who tested positive for Coronavirus in York are being treated at the HCID centre in Newcastle.

Why is this worse than normal influenza, and how worried are the experts?

We don’t yet know how dangerous the new coronavirus is, and we won’t know until more data comes in. The mortality rate is around 2%. However, this is likely to be an overestimate since many more people are likely to have been infected by the virus but not suffered severe enough symptoms to attend hospital, and so have not been counted. For comparison, seasonal flu typically has a mortality rate below 1% and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths each year globally. Sars had a death rate of more than 10%.

Should I go to the doctor if I have a cough?

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 people should call 111 instead of visiting the GP’s surgery as there is a risk they may infect others.

Is this a pandemic and should we panic?

Health experts are starting to say it could become a pandemic, but right now it falls short of what the WHO would consider to be one. A pandemic, in WHO terms, is “the worldwide spread of a disease”. Coronavirus cases have been confirmed in about 25 countries outside China, but by no means in all 195 on the WHO’s list.

There is no need to panic. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. The WHO has declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern, and says there is a “window of opportunity” to halt the spread of the disease. The key issues are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital. Often viruses that spread easily tend to have a milder impact.

Sarah Boseley Health editor and Hannah Devlin 

Parents at Cottesmore St Mary’s Catholic primary school in Hove had two children in quarantine, the Argus reported . Hangleton primary school, also in Hove, sent an email to parents informing them that a pupil’s family were self-isolating because of “a connection to one of the health centres affected by the coronavirus”. It said: “At this time there is a low risk for anyone attending the school.”

Other affected schools include Portslade Aldridge Community Academy in Portslade, which has about 900 students, as well as Bevendean primary school and Balfour primary school.

Ratton school in Eastbourne, a secondary with 1,196 students, and Ocklynge, a junior school, have also issued warnings.

Meanwhile it has emerged that two prisoners at HMP Bullingdon, near Bicester in Oxfordshire, are being tested for coronavirus and kept in isolation in their cells. One of two prisoners had recently been transferred from a jail in Thailand, Sky News reported.

The prison has capacity for 1,114 inmates and remains operational, with PHE on site helping to manage the situation. Access to the wing of the complex where the affected prisoners are being held has been restricted.

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