The killer Chinese coronavirus that is sweeping the world could already be in Britain, health experts have warned today.
Leading scientists admitted there may already be a mild case because screening in the UK ‘is not foolproof’.
In another worrying development to the outbreak, researchers have predicted up to 10,000 patients in Wuhan may already have the virus.
Health chiefs have raised the disease threat level in the UK, amid the spread of the virus which has now infected 473 people and killed nine.
And Heathrow Airport has today announced passengers flying to the UK from Wuhan will be separated amid fears one may have the virus.
The US last night recorded its first case of the SARS-like virus which has killed nine people and struck down 473.
Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan have also recorded cases of the infection already. Officials have confirmed it spreads between humans.
And British officials today revealed passengers flying into Heathrow from China will be separated from other travellers to contain the potential spread of the virus.
Professor Neil Ferguson, the Imperial researcher behind the worrying prediction, did say the UK was not a major travel destination for Wuhan residents.
London is connected to Wuhan – which is home to 11million people – by three direct flights to Heathrow each week.
And Professor Ferguson said ‘we can’t rule out the possibility’, when asked if there could already be a case in the UK.
Speaking at a press briefing by the Science Media Centre, he added: ‘Screening in the UK is not foolproof so there could be a mild case.’
Fears of the outbreak were last week stoked by the Imperial team when they warned up to 4,000 patients in Wuhan may have caught the virus.
They used flight data to make the estimate, with figures showing that 3,300 people in Wuhan fly internationally per day.
But the team has now upgraded their estimate, given how quickly the never-before-seen infection has spread around China and the world.
The report concludes: ‘It is likely the outbreak of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan has caused substantially more cases of moderate or severe respiratory illness than have currently been detected and reported.’
The new coronavirus, which is yet to be named, causes cold-like symptoms including a runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat and a fever.
A total of 456 people are confirmed to have caught the unnamed coronavirus, which has never been seen before. Six patients have died.
Most of the cases have occurred in Wuhan, a city in Hubei province home to 11million people. But patients have been diagnosed across China, including in Beijing and Shanghai.
The coronavirus, which is from the same family as SARS, has also spread to South Korea, Thailand, Japan and Taiwan.
Chinese officials yesterday confirmed the virus has spread between humans, suggesting it can be passed through coughs and sneezes.
The outbreak is believed to have started late last month among people connected to a seafood market in Wuhan, which has since been shut.
China is entering its busiest travel period due to the Lunar New Year, which sees many people travelling back to their home town or village.
Virologists fear the increased travel that will happen over the holidays will cause a surge in cases.
So where have cases been recorded?
Hubei province, 375 cases, 9 deaths
Guangdong province, 26 cases
Chongqing province, 5 cases
Zhejiang province, 5 cases
Hainan province, 4 cases
Jiangxi, 2 cases
Henan province, 1 case
Hunan province, 1 case
Yunnan province, 1 case
Sichuan province, 2 cases
Shandong province, 1 case
Fujian province, 1 case
Shanxi province, 1 case
Shanghai, 9 cases
Beijing, 10 cases
Tianjin, 2 cases
Macau, 1 case
Hong Kong, 1 case
Thailand, 4 cases
South Korea, 1 case
Japan, 1 case
Taiwan, 1 case
US, 1 case