Public Health England has issued interim advice to primary care professionals on dealing with potential cases of coronavirus in patients who have visited affected regions of China.
Official guidance tells practice staff to leave the consultation room immediately if a patient in front of them is suspected to have the virus, and to shut the person inside to avoid others becoming infected.
It comes as the Government has announced precautionary screening measures, with health teams at Heathrow meeting direct flights from China’s Wuhan, the city where the outbreak has begun.
A statement from the Department of Health and Social Care says the risk to the UK remains ‘low’ but is being kept under constant review. Leaflets and information are being made available across all UK airports, advising travellers from China on what do to if they feel unwell.
The new form of coronavirus, which sees patients present with acute respiratory symptoms, was first detected in December after a cluster of cases in Wuhan City in the Hubei Province of China.
There have now been 440 confirmed cases, according to Chinese authorities.
But in a briefing to the media, Professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London said there has been an estimated 4,000 cases since the outbreak began.
Interim advice to practices from Public Health England is to identify potential cases as soon as possible and prevent any transmission to other patients and staff.
If a consultation is already under way when a patient is suspected to have the virus because of their travel history or they have come into contact with someone who is infected, the nurse, GP or other healthcare professional should immediately leave the room and close the door with the patient inside.
Others should be told not to enter the room and any further clinical history should be done by phone.
Anyone suspected of having the virus during a phone consultation should not be invited in for a face-to-face assessment. In either scenario, local infectious disease specialists should be contacted for information on what to do next.
A test for the virus has already been developed in the UK, the DHSC said.
Dr Nick Phin, deputy director of PHE’s national infection service, said: ‘This is a new and rapidly evolving situation where information on cases and the virus is being gathered and assessed daily.
‘Based on the available evidence, the current risk to the UK is considered low. We are working with the World Health Organisation and other international partners, have issued advice to the NHS and are keeping the situation under constant review.’
He added that anyone who developed respiratory symptoms within 14 days of visiting Wuhan, either in China, or on their return to the UK should seek medical attention.
‘They should phone ahead before attending any health services and mention their recent travel to the city.’