Government plans to stockpile BODY BAGS, aprons and face masks amid the coronavirus outbreak in the UK which experts warn will infect thousands
- A leaked memo sent across the country lists essential items for hospitals
- It was sent by a Government office to forums that link health and police services
- Medics have warned the NHS will come under immense pressure due to virus
- Cases in the UK have crept up to 321 since March 5. Five people have died
- The Government has repeatedly told the public there is ‘no need’ to stockpile
- The nation is in a grip of essential product shortages in store as people panic buy
The Government has made plans to stockpile body bags, aprons and face masks amid UK coronavirus outbreak, it has been claimed.
A leaked memo sent to local authorities across England listed essential hospital items which are in high demand and even being stolen.
It includes alcohol hand sanitiser, gloves and protective eyewear, items which are often imported from outside Europe and feared to be running low.
It comes after the British Government said there was ‘no need’ for the public to stockpile, as worried shoppers have cleared shelves in the past week.
The nation is in a grip of essential product shortages in store, including dry food, toilet roll and soap.
Cases in the UK have crept up to 373 – six patients have now died.
But England’s top doctors have warned thousands more are likely to be infected yet, and the outbreak will peak within the next two weeks.
The Government has made plans to stockpile face masks and other protective wear for hospital staff, a leaked memo has shown (stock image)
A list sent by the Government includes alcohol hand sanitiser, gloves and protective eyewear, items which are often imported from outside Europe and feared to be running low
Medical experts have warned of the immense pressure being placed on the NHS due to the outbreak, and world health officials have said there are shortages of essential equiprment
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries said today: ‘Large numbers of the population will become infected because it’s a naive population – nobody has got antibodies to this virus currently.
‘We will see many thousands of people infected by coronavirus, that’s what we’re seeing in other countries.
Asked when the rapid increase of infections might end, she said: ‘Within 10 to 14 days we will be likely to advise people with symptoms to self-isolate and we are expecting that start of the peak to come within that period.’
Following a dramatic increase in cases since mid-February, a government email, seen by The Sun, was sent with ‘high importance’ to local authorities, which include various public services such as the NHS and emergency services.
It was written by ‘Red Control’ – the emergencies division in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) who is responsible for supporting communities responding to emergencies, such as flooding.
A list was compiled of personal protective equipment considered as part of a ‘stockpiling exercise’.
Forums were told to hoard body bags, which are used for dead bodies, and clinical waste bags, for fluids such as diarrhoea and blood.
Aprons, gloves, eye protectors and face masks for nurses and doctors were included, as well as sanitisers such as detergent and environmental cleaner, liquid hand soap and alcohol hand rub.
Oxygen blood level kits, known as pulse oximetry, were told to be saved, presumably because COVID-19 causes shortness of breath, patient gowns, fit test kits and solutions.
An MHCLG spokesperson said: ‘The Government is planning for every eventuality including the reasonable worst case scenario, that is why we have published our Action Plan. Crucially, this does not mean we expect it to happen.
‘We are continuing to work with local partners and sector organisations in their plans to manage the potential impacts of a COVID-19 outbreak and any implications for the delivery of public services.’
It comes as medicals supplies to prevent staff from getting the coronavirus were stolen from a Dublin hospital.
Cases in the UK have crept up to 373 – six patients have now died
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries said today ‘large numbers of the population will become infected’ in the UK. Pictured, how cases have developed since January
PUBLIC TOLD TO STOP STOCKPILING
The government has said said there was ‘no need’ for coronavirus stockpiling, as shoppers posted images of cleared supermarket shelves on social media.
Shoppers have reported shortages of items such as toilet roll, pasta and soup at their stores. Hand sanitiser as been limited to one or two per person in stores such as Boots for over two weeks.
At Tesco, shoppers are limited to buying no more than five of certain goods, including antibacterial gels, wipes and sprays, dry pasta, UHT milk and some tinned vegetables.
Waitrose has brought in a temporary cap on antibacterial soaps and wipes on its website, while Tesco implemented a five-item limit at the weekend, which includes a list of products including pasta, anti-bacterial wipes, gels and sprays, and long-life milk.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned against stockpiling, urging people to ‘behave responsibly and think about others’ when purchasing supplies.
Asked whether people should be stockpiling and if the Government will be able to keep shelves stocked, he said on Monday ‘we’re certainly confident that we have fantastic supply chains’.
He added: ‘There will be a meeting of the scientific advisory group for emergencies tomorrow and then a further Cobra on Wednesday to consider the next steps.’
Asked whether advice for the elderly remains ‘just to wash your hands and nothing else’, Professor Chris Whitty said advice for older people and those who are vulnerable for other reasons will be coming forward ‘in the next stage of the plan after this’.
Mr Johnson added: ‘We’ll make sure we do everything we can to keep supermarkets stocked and the economy working.’
St Luke’s Hospital in Rathgar, which specialises in treating cancer patients, confirmed yesterday that ‘a portion of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)’ was taken.
Supplies are now being restocked at the hospital, and extra security measures have been put in place.
Hand sanitising gel is being stolen by visitors to a hospital on a daily basis according to Northampton General Hospital.
Three wall-mounted dispensers have been ripped off, while visitors have used the hospital’s supply of sanitiser to ‘top up’ their own bottles.
The World Health Organization has warned supplies of protective equipment for health care workers are ‘rapidly depleting’ because of a ‘severe disruption’ to the global supply chain.
Up to 90million masks, 1.6million sets of goggles and 76million pairs of examination gloves are needed to protect health care workers, it is estimated.
Shortages and supply hoarding have triggered huge price inflations on vital personal protective equipment.
European health chiefs met in Brussels last week to discuss a possible shortage in protective equipment as coronavirus fears continue to rise across the continent.
Over the weekend, medical experts warned of the immense pressure being placed on the NHS due to the outbreak.
Already, it has coped with a surge in patients calling a hotline suspecting they have coronavirus, but hospitals could face the brunt if the epidemic worsens.
England’s chief doctor Professor Chris Whitty said the NHS would come under ‘very high pressure’, with the Government accepting the virus ‘is going to spread in a significant way’.
Medical experts have warned that critical care beds will be scarce – already an issue across the nation. There are a handful of infectious disease units that can isolate patients with COVID-19 without concern of other hospital patients.
Public Health England say one in every 20 coronavirus patients could need critical care, based on the outbreak in China.
Dr Rinesh Parmar, chair of the Doctors’ Association UK, told Sky News operations are being cancelled already because of normal seasonal pressures.
He warned an outbreak of coronavirus could cripple the health service.
Dr Parmar said: ‘My main concern is are we going to be able to accommodate an influx of patients? We already know units are at capacity and lots of patient operations are being cancelled.’
On Sunday, when the biggest increase in UK cases was recorded, Boris Johnson reassured that the NHS will be prepared at all costs.
The Government has told the public to ‘plan ahead’ in case they have to self-isolate despite previously pleading with people to stop hoarding. Pictured, empty shelves in London last week
On its website, PHE told people to consider older relatives and neighbours and ‘get some food in so that they would have supplies for a week if required’. Pictured, empty shelves in London
He said: ‘We will make sure we give the NHS… the investment it needs to cope with this crisis. If you think you have symptoms, the best thing to do as you know is to stay at home and contact the NHS.’
The Prime Minister told Britons there is no need to stock-up on essentials when they are shopping.
Mr Johnson said: ‘We’ve had no advice from the scientific advisers or medical officers that there’s any need for people to buy stuff in.’
Just days before, Public Health England (PHE) said people should consider stocking up on enough supplies and food to last them during a potential two-week quarantine.
There have been numerous reports and photographic evidence of panic-buying across the country since last week.
In response, ministers have now relaxed some delivery restrictions. Supermarkets will now be able to make home deliveries around the clock to ensure vulnerable people are not left isolated during the coronavirus crisis.
It is understood deliveries to be made at times which are currently viewed as anti-social – late in the evening or very early in the morning.
Another measure includes a phone line set up which vulnerable people who do not shop online could call to place food shopping orders.
The moves would help to guard against vulnerable people who are self-isolating because of potential exposure to the deadly disease being left without food and vital supplies.
Defra this afternoon confirmed it was also speaking to supermarkets about relaxing time restrictions on deliveries to their branches to keep shelves stocked.
Major supermarket companies are also reportedly set to ask the government to prepare to suspend competition laws in the event the spread of the disease becomes a pandemic so they can work together to meet demand.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS?
Someone who is infected with the coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.
More than 4,000 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 110,000 have been infected. Here’s what we know so far:
What is the coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.
The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.
Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.
The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.
Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals.
‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses).
‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’
The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.
By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.
The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000.
Just a week after that, there had been more than 800 confirmed cases and those same scientists estimated that some 4,000 – possibly 9,700 – were infected in Wuhan alone. By that point, 26 people had died.
By January 27, more than 2,800 people were confirmed to have been infected, 81 had died, and estimates of the total number of cases ranged from 100,000 to 350,000 in Wuhan alone.
By January 29, the number of deaths had risen to 132 and cases were in excess of 6,000.
By February 5, there were more than 24,000 cases and 492 deaths.
By February 11, this had risen to more than 43,000 cases and 1,000 deaths.
A change in the way cases are confirmed on February 13 – doctors decided to start using lung scans as a formal diagnosis, as well as laboratory tests – caused a spike in the number of cases, to more than 60,000 and to 1,369 deaths.
By February 25, around 80,000 people had been infected and some 2,700 had died. February 25 was the first day in the outbreak when fewer cases were diagnosed within China than in the rest of the world.
Where does the virus come from?
According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.
The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.
Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat.
A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.
However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.
Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.
‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’
So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it?
Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.
It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.
Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.
Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.
‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’
If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die.
‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.
‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’
How does the virus spread?
The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.
It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky.
Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.
There is now evidence that it can spread third hand – to someone from a person who caught it from another person.
What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?
Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.
If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.
In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.
Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why.
What have genetic tests revealed about the virus?
Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world.
This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.
Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.
However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.
This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.
More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.
How dangerous is the virus?
The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.
Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.
However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.
Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.
Can the virus be cured?
The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.
Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.
No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.
The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.
Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.
People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.
And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).
However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.
Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?
The outbreak is an epidemic, which is when a disease takes hold of one community such as a country or region.
Although it has spread to dozens of countries, the outbreak is not yet classed as a pandemic, which is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.
The head of WHO’s global infectious hazard preparedness, Dr Sylvie Briand, said: ‘Currently we are not in a pandemic. We are at the phase where it is an epidemic with multiple foci, and we try to extinguish the transmission in each of these foci,’ the Guardian reported.
She said that most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.
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