WHO experts take a SECOND swipe at UK’s coronavirus plans, saying ‘we need to look at ACTION’ and Boris Johnson’s ‘herd immunity’ plan is a gamble because ‘we don’t know enough about this virus’

  • WHO spokeswoman Dr Margaret Harris said today that scientists do not yet know enough about the virus
  • She added that while ‘we can talk theories’, countries needed to take action to lessen the impact 
  • Yesterday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said every country should test every case of coronavirus
  • It came after Boris Johnson decided to only test patients with severe symptoms who are in hospital
  • The move came as part of the UK Government’s ‘delay’ phase, accepting millions will become infected
  • But the WHO director general said the UK could be making a ‘deadly mistake’ by failing to treat every case 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

The World Health Organisation has laid into the Government’s coronavirus plans for a second time, slamming the approach to allow UK citizens to develop ‘herd immunity’ against the potentially deadly infection. 

Yesterday, the body’s director general had said every country should find and test every possible case and warned not to ‘just let this fire burn’.   

Boris Johnson and his team of scientific advisers revealed on Thursday that the aim of the Government’s approach is to slow the progress of the virus as it sweeps through the population, rather than following other countries in immediately shutting schools or banning public gatherings.  

But chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said around 60 per cent of the population – 40 million people –  will need to catch the virus to build up a national tolerance strong enough to stop the virus circulating.

Today, the World Health Organisation’s spokeswoman Dr Margaret Harris slammed the UK’s decision to aim for mass immunity, saying that not enough is known about the virus to allow millions to become infected. 

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We don’t know enough about the science of this virus, it hasn’t been in our population for long enough for us to know what it does in immunological terms.

The World Health Organisation’s spokesman Dr Margaret Harris has criticised the Government’s controversial approach to allow UK citizens to develop ‘herd immunity’ against coronavirus

A map showing the latest number of cases across Europe, with Italy by far the worst affected. The small dots represent small nations such as Vatican City, San Marino and Andorra

Boris Johnson announced only the most seriously ill will be tested with others who notice symptoms encouraged to self-isolate for 14 days

‘Every virus functions differently in your body and stimulates a different immunological profile.

‘We can talk theories, but at the moment we are really facing a situation where we have got to look at action.’


Herd immunity is a situation in which a population of people is protected from a disease because so many of them are unaffected by it that it cannot spread. 

To cause an outbreak a disease-causing bacteria or virus must have a continuous supply of potential victims who are not immune to it.

Immunity is when your body knows exactly how to fight off a certain type of infection because it has encountered it before, either by having the illness in the past or through a vaccine.

When a virus or bacteria enters the body the immune system creates substances called antibodies, which are designed to destroy one specific type of bug.

When these have been created once, some of them remain in the body and the body also remembers how to make them again. This provides long-term protection, or immunity, against an illness.

If nobody is immune to an illness – as was the case at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak – it can spread like wildfire.

However, if, for example, half of people have developed immunity – from a past infection or a vaccine – there are only half as many people the illness can spread to.

As more and more people become immune the bug finds it harder and harder to spread until its pool of victims becomes so small it can no longer spread at all.

The threshold for herd immunity is different for various illnesses, depending on how contagious they are – for measles, around 95 per cent of people must be vaccinated to it spreading.

For polio, which is less contagious, the threshold is about 80-85 per cent, according to the Oxford Vaccine Group.

Her comments built on earlier criticism from the WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday after the Prime Minister announced only the most seriously ill will be tested with others who notice symptoms encouraged to self-isolate for 14 days.

Dr Ghebreyesus said: ‘You can’t fight a virus if you don’t know where it is.

‘Find, isolate, test and treat every case to break the chains of Covid transmission. Every case we find and treat limits the expansion of the disease.

‘Do not just let this fire burn,’ he said. ‘Any country that looks at the experience of other countries with large epidemics and thinks ‘that won’t happen to us’ is making a deadly mistake.’

But the UK Government is not following the advice of the health chief, instead limiting testing to patients in hospital with serious breathing problems.

NHS England had announced an increase in testing capabilities which would allow them to carry out 10,000 tests a day.

But after the UK moved from the ‘containment’ phase to ‘delay’, the Government accepted millions would be infected and testing was no longer a priority.   

Meanwhile in the US, Donald Trump announced on Friday tests would be available at drive-thru centres in Walmart, Target and CVS parking lots. 

The UK has moved to ban all mass gatherings and sports events from next weekend, measures already implemented in many other European countries.

But Tedros fears these measures are too late, saying Europe is now the ‘epicentre’ of the pandemic, with more daily cases on the continent than China was suffering at the height of its outbreak, the World Health Organisation said today.

He made the stark assessment on Friday as he lamented the ‘tragic milestone’ of 5,000 global deaths from Covid-19. 

He added that Europe now has ‘more reported virus cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China’.

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said around 60 per cent of the population – 40 million people – will need to catch the virus to build up a national tolerance strong enough to stop the virus circulating. Pictured: Medics at a drive-through coronavirus testing site in Wolverhampton on Thursday

Dr Harris’s comments built on earlier criticism from the WHO on Friday, as they said every country should find and test every possible case 

A member of the public is swabbed at a drive through Coronavirus testing site, set up in a car park in Wolverhampton on Thursday

The claim that Europe is now outpacing China at its peak is particularly striking because the continent’s population, at around 740million, is well below China’s population of nearly 1.4billion. 

‘Europe has now become the epicentre of the pandemic,’ Tedros told reporters in Geneva today. ‘More cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic.’ 

Tedros did not provide numbers for his comparison with China, but Europe’s count has risen by around 16,000 since Monday – an average of 4,000 a day. 

At the height of the crisis in China in early February, Beijing health bosses were regularly reporting around 3,000 new infections a day.  

Fears about the virus has led to panic buying in supermarkets across the UK. Pictured: A Tesco store in Chester stripped bare of toilet roll

Shoppers are faced with partially empty shelves at a supermarket in London today

ITALY: Hospital workers in protective gear work in a triage tent at a makeshift hospital in Brescia, where any arriving patients with suspected coronavirus symptoms are being tested

RUSSIA: A construction site in the village of Babenki where a new infectious diseases hospital for virus patients is being built

Emergency wards have been springing up across Europe as panic spreads across the continent with even France’s Emmanuel Macron calling for tougher border controls.  

Medics have been working from tents in Italy and Poland with patients placed on temporary beds while they are tested for the virus which has now killed more than 1,200 people in Europe.  

In Russia, diggers were working into the night on a new infectious diseases clinic in the village of Babenki – reminiscent of China’s hurried hospital construction when the outbreak began. 

Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin has ordered the facility built, some 40 miles from the capital, even though Russia currently has among the fewest victims among major countries. 

France has also vowed to ‘massively increase’ its hospital capacity, while also trying to contain the virus by banning any gathering of more than 100 people with immediate effect – tightening its earlier 1,000-person limit. 

Spain and Bulgaria are both declaring states of emergency, with Spanish police blocking roads out of four quarantined towns near Barcelona today as the death toll reached 120.  

POLAND: Mobile emergency rooms are set up outside University Hospital in Krakow to test suspected coronavirus patients

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (pictured) said Europe was now the ‘epicentre’ of the crisis and was reporting more daily cases than China did at the height of the outbreak there

Cases in Spain have soared to more than 4,200 in Europe’s worst outbreak outside Italy, while UK officials have advised against unnecessary travel to Madrid and other parts of Spain.   

Millions of schoolchildren were staying at home across the continent as France, Portugal, Ireland, Malta, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg became the latest countries to shut their classrooms. Most of Germany’s 16 states have also done so today.   

The Czech Republic has taken even more drastic measures with a ban on all foreign travellers coming in and Czechs leaving the country from March 16. 

Denmark has taken similarly decisive action with a warning against against unnecessary travel to any destination.   

Disneyland Paris is shutting its doors on Sunday, in line with other Disney parks in California and Florida, after several of its workers contracted the virus in recent days. The Louvre art gallery is also shut until further notice.  

In Italy, which is already in lockdown, Catholic churches in Rome have now been shut as the Vatican falls in line with the rest of the country. 

Football fixtures across Europe have been taking place behind closed doors amid calls for the Euro 2020 tournament to be postponed.  

Meanwhile, some European passengers were boarding the last flights to America yesterday before Donald Trump’s unexpected travel ban came into force at midnight. 

Bulgaria’s state of emergency involves the shutting of all shops – except food stores and pharmacies – shopping malls, casinos, bars and restaurants with immediate effect until March 29. 

The drastic measures leave Britain increasingly out of step with the rest of Europe after Boris Johnson declined to impose a ban on schools or public events. 

Europe now has a total of 36,929 cases, nearly half of them in Italy, and 1,499 deaths.  

The new Russian hospital, inspired by the rapidly-built Chinese clinics, will be a 500-bed treatment centre described by Moscow’s deputy mayor as ‘one of the most modern’ medical facilities. 

Moscow was ‘doing everything to prevent the infection from spreading’, the city’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said on Thursday. 

Russia’s health watchdog has warned against using public transport during rush hour and urged Russians to avoid hugging and handshakes. 

The Chinese authorities constructed a 1,000-bed hospital last month in just 10 days following last December’s outbreak of the virus in the Wuhan region.   

Diggers at the site in Russia where a new infectious diseases hospital for coronavirus patients is under construction 

Lorries, cars and excavators on a road in the Russian village where a new hospital is being built to deal with the coronavirus 

Vehicles and diggers were seen loading building equipment onto the area as the construction project began yesterday 

Work carried on into the night as the construction workers raced to finish the project before Covid-19 spread any further

Czech authorities said yesterday they would ban all foreign travellers from entering and all Czechs from leaving the country as of March 16. 

‘It’s a very tough measure but we think it may fundamentally contribute to stemming the spread of the coronavirus,’ interior minister Jan Hamacek told reporters.

The government also ordered a mandatory two-week quarantine for people coming to the Czech Republic from 15 ‘risk countries’ with the exception of transit travellers.

These countries are China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Britain, Denmark and France. 

In France, schools and universities will be shut until at least the Easter holidays, education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told French radio today. 

Health minister Olivier Veran said that the schools would be closed for ‘as short a time as possible’ but also for  ‘as long as is needed’. 

‘What we want is a massive applying of the brakes nationwide,’ he told Europe 1 Radio today.  

A patient wearing a mask and covered in a foil blanket is wheeled to a hospital ward by medics at a Brescia hospital yesterday

Members of a medical team in protective suits carry a stretcher outside dormitory No 3 at a university in Minsk

A patient wearing a mask sits in a tent in Brescia where health workers in protective suits can test him for coronavirus 

Patients lie on temporary beds at a makeshift hospital in Brescia, in the northern Italian region of Lombardy yesterday

Hospital workers in protective gear work in a triage tent at the makeshift hospital in Brescia on Friday 

A patient wearing a mask waits outside a tent to be tested for new coronavirus at the makeshift medical centre in Brescia 

 A patient wearing a mask is seen sitting inside the Spedali Civili hospital in Brescia on Friday

French President Emmanuel Macron had announced the closures in address to the nation from the Elysee Palace last night where he urged older people to stay at home. 

‘We are just at the beginning of this crisis,’ said Macron, 42. ‘In spite of all our efforts to brake it, this virus is continuing to propagate and to accelerate.’

Macron asked people older than 70, those who suffer chronic diseases, respiratory troubles, and the handicapped, ‘to stay at home’ as far as possible. 

‘They can, of course, leave home to do the shopping, to take some air, but they should limit their contacts as much as possible,’ said the president. 

But Macron also announced that nationwide local elections scheduled for Sunday will not be postponed. 

‘There is nothing to prevent the French, even the most vulnerable, from going to the ballot box’ as long as people observe hygiene rules, he said.  

‘It is important at this time… to assure the continuity of our democratic life and that of our institutions,’ said Macron. 

Public transport will not be interrupted, said Macron, ‘because to stop it would be to block everything, including the possibility to provide health care’ where needed. 

Disneyland Paris is closing on Sunday, along with the company’s theme parks in California and Florida. Three workers at the Paris park were reported to have been infected.  

Paramedics work at a makeshift medical centre in Brescia, in northern Italy which has been worst affected by the outbreak 

A hospital worker wearing a mask with goggles, protective suit and gloves gives instructions at the hospital in Brescia on Friday

Mobile emergency rooms have been set up outside University Hospital in Krakow to test suspected patients in Poland

An outdoor view of one of the emergency tents in Krakow, with Poland announcing its first death from the virus on Thursday

Some of the beds at an emergency area outside the University Hospital in Krakow, where patients can be tested for the virus 

Medical staff arrive in an ambulance at a public hospital in Lublin in Poland, a country which yesterday recorded its first coronavirus death 

The latest coronavirus measures around Europe 


Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has taken dramatic measures including quarantining two hard-hit areas of Tirol.

He told reporters in Vienna that the towns of St Anton am Arlberg and the Paznauntal area would be isolated for 14 days, but added residents and tourists there now will be taken care of.

Businesses are being asked to close from Monday, apart from those providing essential services such as supermarkets, petrol stations, banks, post offices and pharmacies. Bars and cafes can stay open until 3pm. 


The Greek Olympic committee says it is suspending the rest of its torch relay because of ‘unexpectedly large crowd’ that gathered to watch despite repeated requests to stay away to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The Hellenic Olympic Committee said a large crowd had gathered to watch the flame for the Tokyo Olympics pass through the southern town of Sparta. 

The flame had been lit yesterday at the birthplace of the games in Ancient Olympia in a scaled-back ceremony.

The handover of the Olympic Flame to the Tokyo organising committee will go ahead as scheduled on March 19 at the stadium in Athens where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.


The government said Czech citizens coming home from 15 countries that are considered risky will have to stay under quarantine for two weeks.

The announcement also covers foreigners arriving from China, Iran, Korea, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Britain. 


President Emmanuel Macron vowed that nationwide elections will go ahead this weekend, after France’s number of cases jumped past 2,800, including 61 deaths.

The virus is sure to dominate the process as voters choose mayors and tens of thousands of local officials in the first round of elections on Sunday.

Voting stations are under orders to allow a one-metre gap between people in queues, and to provide soap, sanitising gel or disinfectant wipes for voting machines. Authorities advised voters to bring their own pen to sign the voting register.


Prime minister Pedro Sanchez said the government will declare a two-week state of emergency starting on Saturday.

Mr Sanchez said Spain will ‘mobilise all resources’, including the military, to contain a sharp rise in cases.

It comes after more than 60,000 people were confined to four towns in Spain’s first mandatory lockdown. The situation in and around the capital Madrid has seen nearly 2,000 positive cases.

The country had more than 4,200 cases by Friday afternoon and at least 120 deaths.

The royal palace said King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia have tested negative for Covid-19.

The royal couple took the test on Thursday after the government confirmed the infection of equality minister Irene Montero, who had attended an event with the queen last week.

Another cabinet member was also confirmed to be infected after all the panel was tested.


Legislators voted unanimously to approve the government’s proposal for a 30-day state of emergency across the country.

Prime minister Boyko Borissov said this will allow the government to shut down schools, nurseries, universities, concert halls and nightclubs.

He said parliament should vote on penalties for people ordered into quarantine who do not follow procedures.

A ban will be imposed on travel to certain countries, and people from countries with a high rate of infections will be banned from entering the country.


Norway has reported its first death from the coronavirus. Prime minister Erna Solberg said ‘an elderly person’ died on Thursday in Oslo.

King Harald V, members of the royal family and some government officials have been put in quarantine because they had travelled abroad in recent weeks.


Legislators passed a temporary law under which authorities can force people who are suspected of having the virus to undergo tests. The law also gives authorities the ability to ban access to public places and stores.

The government has already closed all schools and daycare facilities and ordered government workers who do not perform critical functions to stay home for the next two weeks,

Queen Margrethe has cancelled all events around her 80th birthday on April 16.


Estonia has declared a state of emergency, meaning no events can take place in public areas.

Prime minister Juri Ratas said: ‘The state must be able to give citizens clear and if necessary mandatory instructions that would help to put a limit to the spread of the virus.’

He said he understands the inconvenience, ‘but what is at stake is not the protection of just people’s health, but also lives’. 

Neighbouring Belgium will close schools, cancelled cultural events and shut down bars and restaurants, the government announced last night. 

Prime minister Sophie Wilmes unveiled the measures after a national security meeting last night, saying they would come into force on Friday. 

‘This is not a lockdown,’ Wilmes said. ‘We want to avoid situations like Italy. These measures must prevent lockdowns.’

The closure of schools at national level will be effective until April 3, the day before the Easter holidays, effectively keeping students out of school for a month.

The government said that parents with no option for child care would be helped by authorities. 

This was an effort to avoid citizens resorting to retired people, the age group most vulnerable to the virus.

‘The idea is not for children to be looked after by their grandparents,’ she said.

Beginning Saturday, only stores that provide essential services – such as pharmacies and grocery stores – will remain open under normal conditions. 

All other stores will remain open during the week, but closed at weekends. The government also asked Belgians to work from home as much as possible. 

Luxembourg also closed schools and is limiting visits to the elderly in hospitals and nursing homes, hoping to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

‘Daily life is going to change and we will have to adapt,’ Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said, announcing measures of a scale ‘never seen before’ in the Grand Duchy.

Landlocked Luxembourg is home to only 600,000 people, but more than 200,000 commuters from Belgium, France and Germany cross its borders each day to come to work.  

Portugal has also closed schools, keeping children at home from Monday until just before Easter. 

The move will affect more than 1.6 million children and teenagers and remain in force until April 9, prime minister Antonio Costa said.

Costa also announced a series of ‘temporary’ measures, including the closure of nightclubs and limiting visitors to retirement homes.

Portugal has so far registered 78 cases and has cancelled events with more than 1,000 people in enclosed places and more than 5,000 in open areas.

Malta has also shut down schools, with no flights leaving for France or Italy from the country’s sole international airport today.  

Switzerland closed classrooms today and offered billions in aid to hard-hit businesses, with a ‘state of necessity’ declared in the Ticino region which borders Italy. 

close its schools in a bid to halt the spread of the new coronavirus, the government said Friday, adding that it would provide billions in aid to hard-hit businesses.

‘The situation is difficult,’ Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga told reporters, as the small Alpine country saw its number of positive tests balloon to over 1,000.

Closing schools in Germany is a matter for the country’s 16 states, at least 13 of which had done so by Friday afternoon. 

Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that the Easter holidays could be brought forward if state governments decided to keep children at home. 

Merkel has called for non-essential events to be cancelled, going further than a previous demand to stop gatherings of more than 1,000 people. 

‘That is a call to all,’ she said, noting that ‘where possible, social contact must be avoided’.

Bavarian governor Markus Soeder said the state is implementing strict restrictions on visits to hospitals, retirement homes and other facilities where people may be particularly vulnerable.  

Berlin has also offered companies ‘unlimited’ credit to keep them afloat during the coronavirus crisis, in a departure from its usually strict fiscal policies. 

Some 550billion euros (£488billion) in government-backed loans that was announced is just ‘for starters’, said Economy Minister Peter Altmaier.

‘We promised that we will not fail because of a lack of money and political will. This means that no healthy company, no job should find themselves in trouble,’ he said. 

Germany’s count of coronavirus cases has now reached 2,369 including five deaths. The Bundesliga football season will be suspended from Tuesday until early April.  

Austria todaytightened its coronavirus response by announcing the closure of non-essential retail businesses, locking down two western communities and suspending flights to France, Spain and Switzerland.

A day after revealing its first virus-related death, Vienna said that non-essential retail businesses must be shuttered from Monday and that cafes and restaurants would shut every day at 3pm. 

In Spain, four towns in Catalonia were put under quarantine in the first such move in the country.   

The 66,000 inhabitants of the localities of Igualada, Odena, Santa Margarida de Montbui and Vilanova del Cami ‘cannot leave their urban core’ although they can leave their homes, a statement said.

Catalonia’s health minister Alba Verges told reporters that the authorities would be focussing on Igualada, a town of 40,000 inhabitants just 40 miles from Barcelona. 

Catalan police were blocking cars trying to leave Igualada on a motorway this morning.    

Tourists wear masks at Disneyland Paris, which is now closing its doors over coronavirus fears along with the company’s parks in Florida and California  

Workers carry tables as they remove the terrace of a restaurant due to the coronavirus outbreak at Plaza Mayor in central Madrid today 

Popular Italian landmarks such as the Trevi Fountain in Rome, pictured today, remain deserted because of the virus

Catalan police officers stop a car trying to get into Igualada, one of the four towns closed down by regional authorities, at a checkpoint near Barcelona this morning

VATICAN CITY: A view of St Peter’s Square, deserted except for a man standing by a police car, in Vatican City today 

ITALY: A sanitation worker sprays disinfectant over a set of stairs in Brescia in northern Italy, which is already under quarantine 

GERMANY: Passengers wait to board the last direct United Airlines flight from Berlin to New York at Tegel Airport this morning before Donald Trump’s travel ban takes effect

A line of trucks queue up in Obrezje, around six miles away from Slovenia’s border with Croatia where new health checks have been taking place 

Meanwhile, Poland recorded its first virus death yesterday after a 57-year-old teacher died in the city of Poznan. 

The woman had been taken to hospital in a critical condition with pneumonia, Poznan deputy mayor Jedrzej Solarski said.  

The woman’s husband and daughter are among those in hospital with coronavirus but their conditions are not critical. 

Other family members, including the woman’s two sons, have not been infected.

‘What we feared over the last few days has come about. We have our first death from the coronavirus,’ Polish President Andrzej Duda told reporters.

‘I offer my condolences to her close ones.’ 

Poland currently has 46 other confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to the health ministry.

Italy is already four days into a nationwide quarantine that has left streets empty with bars and restaurants shut and most shops ordered to close. 

The Piazza del Popolo in Rome is almost deserted on Friday because of Italy’s drastic quarantine measures to beat the virus 

French president Emmanuel Macron speaking to the nation last night from the Elysee Palace where he announced that schools would be closed from next week 

Rome is now shutting down all its Catholic churches with worshippers exempted from attending Sunday Mass.  

The shutdown was announced by the Pope’s deputy in Rome last night as Italy’s death toll passed 1,000 in the worst outbreak outside China.

Cardinal Angelo De Donatis said Rome’s 900 churches will be closed until at least April 3, when Italy’s nationwide quarantine is due to end. 

The Vatican has already shut down St Peter’s Square, St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museums to tourists with weddings and funerals called off. 

But the total church closure is thought to be unprecedented. Some places of worship keeping their doors open even during World War II when the Nazis and Italian fascists kept Pope Pius XII confined to the Vatican.   

The cardinal’s statement said access to ‘churches of the Diocese of Rome open to the public – and more generally to religious buildings of any kind open to the public – is forbidden to all the faithful’.

The statement added that monasteries would remain open to ‘communities that habitually use them as residents’. 

‘This provision is for the common good,’ De Donatis wrote.  

The cardinal said he was finally moved to close Rome’s churches by ‘the even more binding restrictions placed on the ordinary movement of people’.   

Players line up for a Europa League match between Eintracht Frankfurt of Germany and FC Basel of Switzerland last night which was played behind closed doors 

Passengers wait to board the last direct United Airlines flight from Berlin to New York at Tegel Airport before the Trump European travel ban goes into effect

The Pope himself has been kept away from the public since he appeared to have a cold during an Ash Wednesday service last week. 

Pope Francis has been appearing via a Vatican live-stream and has complained of feeling ‘caged’. 

The 83-year-old was forced to miss his weekly Wednesday appearance on St Peter’s Square where he often hugs and shake hands with the faithful. 

The pontiff also had to read his traditional Sunday Angelus Prayer into a camera instead of his usual window overlooking the square. 

The national quarantine is in place until at least April 3, but top health official Walter Ricciardi told Italian TV yesterday that his countrymen should prepare for a ‘long war’. 

Italy’s government has also announced plans to boost the economy with extra spending, with particular fears for the tourist industry. 

Medical supplies from China arrived at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport last night after they were flown from Shanghai – with Beijing now exporting its knowledge of handling the virus. 

Time is running out for Britons to return home from Italy with the last flights leaving tonight and neighbours shutting their borders.  

Austria has ordered a halt to flights and trains from Italy while Slovenia has begun imposing controls at its border with the country. 

Elsewhere, truck drivers have been waiting in long queues at the Slovenia-Croatia border with extra checks taking place because of the outbreak. 

A mostly deserted alleyway and square near the Pantheon in Rome today with all of Italy on lockdown because of the virus 

UK prime minister Boris Johnson at a Downing Street press conference yesterday where he declined to implement drastic quarantine measures 

Europe-wide sports events have also been affected with several Champions League and Europa League games taking place behind closed doors this week. 

There are growing calls for Euro 2020, which is due to take place across the continent, to be postponed until next year. 

A delay could also allow disrupted football seasons to finish over the summer, it has been suggested. 

Britain has yet to announce any drastic quarantine measures, although schools have been told to cancel foreign trips and older people advised against cruise voyages. 

Boris Johnson said further measures were likely in the coming weeks, including the possibility of cancelling mass gatherings such as sporting events. 

Football authorities took matters into their own hands today by suspending the Premier League season until early April. 

Mr Johnson insisted yesterday that scientists were advising against school closures, despite similar shutdowns in neighbouring Ireland. 

‘Schools should only shut if they are specifically advised to do so,’ the PM told reporters in Downing Street yesterday. 

The government is also fearful of public ‘fatigue’ of tougher restrictions before they are needed most.

‘This is going to be a long haul. It is very important we do not start things in advance of need,’ Mr Johnson said at the Number 10 press conference.     


Someone who is infected with the coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.

More than 5,300 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 140,000 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. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.

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. 

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 was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’. 

Previously, the UN agency said 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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