Two hospital staff in isolation after London COVID-19 patient took Uber to A&E

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The first person confirmed to have coronavirus in London took an Uber to hospital and walked into an A&E department.

When the patient – a woman – “self-presented” at Lewisham Hospital on Sunday, they were immediately given a face mask and taken to a special area to be tested for the virus.

Ben Travi, chief executive of Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, said the test result came back positive on Wednesday and the patient was transferred to a specialist NHS centre at Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital.

Uber
Image: The patient took an Uber to A&E. File pic

All staff who came into contact with the patient have been traced, Mr Travi added, while Uber has suspended the account of the driver after liaising with Public Health England (PHE).

Two staff from Lewisham Hospital are now in isolation at home after coming into contact with the woman, believed to be a Chinese national, who flew into London from China.

A total of nine people in the UK are now being treated for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

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“We received a request from Public Health England for information about a passenger who has now been confirmed as having coronavirus,” said an Uber spokeswoman.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we temporarily suspended the account of the driver who transported the individual to hospital and we remain in close contact with Public Health England.

“We have a dedicated online portal for public health authorities to contact Uber for information about riders and drivers, and we will take action on any user accounts on the recommendation of those authorities.”

PHE consultant Rachel Thorn said: “We are in contact with Uber to ensure the driver receives advice and information on what to do should they feel unwell in the coming days.

“As the journey was less than 15 minutes, the driver did not have close sustained contact with the individual and are not considered high risk.”

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‘Coronavirus outbreak could still go in any direction’

In other developments:

  • NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens has said many more people in the UK may need to self-isolate to stop the spread of the virus
  • It came as doctors warned the London Underground could become a hotbed for the illness
  • Dentists are facing “imminent disruption” due to a shortage of face masks amid increased demand
  • Grime star Stormzy has rescheduled part of his world tour due to the outbreak, moving several Asia gigs
  • Several other events, including the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, have been cancelled
  • In more positive news, some 83 people held in quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital in Merseyside after returning from Wuhan, China, are being allowed to go home after testing negative for the coronavirus
  • And in Scotland 148 people have now been tested for coronavirus, but none have come back positive.

A man in a hazmat suit and face mask has also been seen cleaning surfaces in the patient waiting area of a health centre in north London, although no confirmed or suspected cases have been linked to the site.

The picture was taken from outside Ritchie Street Group Practice in Islington on Thursday.

On the entrance, a sign said it was closed “due to operational difficulties”.

A man in a hazmat suit and face mask cleans the Ritchie Street Health Centre, Islington, North London, which has been closed "due to operational difficulties". PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday February 13, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Tom Pilgrim/PA Wire
Image: A man in a hazmat suit and face mask cleans the Ritchie Street Health Centre, Islington

The latest global figures:

  • More than 14,800 new cases and 242 deaths have been confirmed in China’s Hubei province, which is the epicentre of the outbreak
  • Hubei alone now has 48,206 confirmed cases, most in the city of Wuhan, with 33,693 being treated in hospital, and 5,647 of them said to be critically ill
  • There have been 60,363 confirmed cases worldwide and 1,370 deaths – all but two in China, with one in Japan and one in the Philippines
  • Forty-four more people on board the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess, which is docked in Japan, have tested positive for COVID-19
  • There are now 218 confirmed cases from the cruise ship – the biggest cluster outside China.
‘COVID-19 more severe in 40+ men across the world’

Despite the apparent spike, the World Health Organisation has played down fears that it represented a major shift in the trajectory of the outbreak.

Officials said the increase was “largely down to a change in how cases are being diagnosed and reported”.

Doctors in China can now make clinical diagnoses based on chest imaging, rather than wait for laboratory confirmation, allowing for cases to be confirmed more quickly.

It also means suspected cases from previous days and weeks, including some going right back to the end of December, are now being included in the latest updates from Hubei.

It means figures from Hubei – including those from Wednesday night – now include confirmed laboratory cases and suspected cases based on the chest imaging tests.

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Dr Robin Thompson of Oxford University issued a warning about how the London Underground could become a hotbed for the illness – although it came before travel details emerged about the first confirmed case in the capital.

He said: “In general, if an initial case is in a densely populated area, then the risk of sustained person-to-person transmission following is higher.

“This is exacerbated by the fact that London is a transport hub, and the Underground could provide a network to spread the virus quickly. As a result, given this case was in London, it might be expected that there is an increased risk posed by this case compared to the others we have seen.”

Face masks have become a common sight on public transport in China
Image: Face masks have become a common sight on public transport in China

Regarding face masks, the British Dental Association (BDA) has said it has been inundated with calls from member practices in the wake of “panic buying, clumsy rationing and naked profiteering”.

China is the world’s leading manufacturer of sanitary masks, and some suppliers have tripled prices since January.

The BDA estimates a single surgery in a typical NHS practice – seeing around 28 patients per day – gets through five boxes of masks, containing 50 masks in each, a week.

It said practices are now finding they are unable to order more than two boxes per day, leaving bigger practices across the country facing a shortage.

Chairman Mick Armstrong said dentists had fallen victim to “panic buying, clumsy rationing and naked profiteering”.

In England, dentists are required to wear disposable face masks, clinical gloves, household gloves, plastic disposable aprons, and eye protection, and in Scotland can use disposable masks or reusable visors interchangeably.

Dentist
Image: The British Dental Association says it has been inundated with calls from member practices over supplies

The outbreak is continuing to have an impact on UK businesses, with British Airways halving its number of flights between Heathrow and Hong Kong due to a drop in demand.

JCB is set to reduce production levels at UK factories due to anticipated component shortages from Chinese suppliers, meaning a shorter working week for around 4,000 JCB and agency shop floor employees from Monday.

The measures were discussed with the GMB union and will see the introduction of a 34-hour week for UK production employees until further notice, with JCB employees to be paid for a 39-hour week and will bank the hours.

Coronavirus face mask shortage threatens UK dentists

A shortage of face masks caused by the coronavirus outbreak poses an “imminent disruption” to UK dental services, it has been warned.

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