The UK raised its threat level for the Wuhan coronavirus last night after the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a global health emergency.
Public health officials said the threat was no moderate rather than low. Senior GPs called for patients who have been to China to stay away from surgeries – and to make contact by phone.
UK monitoring has found no cases of the disease so far, the government reported. Some 161 people had been tested by last night.
Royal College of GPs chair Professor Martin Marshall said: “It is vital that any patient who thinks they may have symptoms does not try to attend a GP appointment or hospital emergency departments in person and instead stay at home and call NHS 111, advising the call handler if they have recently travelled to Wuhan, China.
“Should a patient arrive at a GP surgery with potential symptoms and who has recently travelled to an affected area, GPs should place them in isolation, where possible. Current Public Health England guidelines should then be followed.”
Meanwhile senior doctors warned of a growing shortage of supplies in Asian countries affected by the outbreak. The World Medical Association called for an international supply chain. It said gloves, masks, detergents and single use coats and cloaks are already in short supply.
Chair Dr Frank Montgomery said: “We have received urgent requests from our member associations in the Asian region about a dangerous shortage of medical supplies to prevent infection of health professionals.
“Messages from China, Hong Kong and other Asian countries indicate the need for a diversification of international supply chains to reduce dependency from one country or region, or in extreme cases just from one producer. There also needs to be a decentralized stockpiling of necessary goods for emergency preparedness and a revision of dangerous cost containment laws which in the past have led to a cut in expenditure for emergency preparedness.”
According to data collected by WHO, just seven patients so far have no history of travel in China. Within China there are more than 7,000 confirmed cases and 12,000 suspected cases. There have been 170 deaths and 1,370 cases of severe illness. Outside China there have been 82 cases in 18 countries.