Britain reports two cases of coronavirus, evacuation flight from China lands

BRIZE NORTON, England (Reuters) - Two patients from the same family in England have tested positive for coronavirus, the first such cases in Britain, health chiefs said on Friday as an evacuation flight brought Britons home from the centre of the outbreak in China.

Officials had warned that the United Kingdom was highly likely to have cases of the new coronavirus, which first emerged in China’s central province of Hubei and has killed 213 people so far.

“The patients are receiving specialist National Health Service (NHS) care and we are using tried and tested infection-control procedures to prevent further spread of the virus,” said England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty.

He said the two infected patients, who local media said had been staying at a hotel in the city of York, had been transferred to a specialist infectious disease unit in Newcastle, northeast England.

Whitty said it could turn out to be a relatively minor infection as there was only a 2% mortality rate.

Staff, other patients and the general public would not be at risk, he said, and health officials were tracing those who had been in close contact with the pair.

Whitty also said they were extending their advice so that anyone who had returned from China should “self-isolate” if they developed symptoms of any kind.

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On Thursday, Britain raised the perceived risk level to the country to moderate from low after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency.

A plane transported 83 British nationals from Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, to Britain on Friday before flying on to Madrid to deposit another 27 European Union (EU) citizens, mostly Spaniards.

The Spanish passengers will be quarantined at a military hospital in Madrid, while four Danish citizens and one Norwegian will be flown back to their home countries, according to Spain’s Health Ministry.

The returning Britons will be quarantined for 14 days at an NHS facility in northwest England.

One of those on board, Ben Williams, told BBC TV he had just got married in China and had been on his honeymoon. He said he had been forced to leave behind his wife, a Chinese national, because they had not had time to arrange for her to come.

“Hopefully it’s only a few months,” he said. “It’s good to be back but I also miss China as well.”

Whitty said the intention was to keep those who had returned close to medical services in case they needed them.

“What we hope is that all these people will have 14 days isolated from the general public, but not in the sense of solitary confinement, and then they will be able to be released without any symptoms at all,” he said.

Senior British minister Michael Gove said Britain would send another plane to Wuhan if necessary.

Additional reporting by David Milliken in London and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing, Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Hugh Lawson