The spread of coronavirus is a “serious and imminent threat” to the health of people in the UK, Matt Hancock has warned, as the number of confirmed cases in the country rose from four to eight.
Four more people from Brighton were diagnosed over the weekend, one of which had been at the same French ski resort where other UK patients are believed to have contracted the infection.
All were contacts of a previously confirmed UK case, the Department of Health said. At least one is reportedly a staff member at the city’s County Oak medical centre.
The newly-diagnosed patients have since been moved from Brighton to London to receive specialist care.
In a statement, chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said: “Experts at Public Health England continue to work hard tracing patient contacts from the UK cases. They successfully identified these individuals and ensured the appropriate support was provided.
“The patients have been transferred to specialist NHS centres at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and The Royal Free hospitals, and we are now using robust infection control measures to prevent further spread of the virus. The NHS is extremely well prepared to manage these cases and treat them, and we are working quickly to identify any further contacts these patients have had.”
Budget airline easyJet also issued a warning about one of its passengers on a London-bound flight who had since tested positive for the virus.
Health secretary Hancock announced new regulations on Monday “to ensure that the public are protected as far as possible from the transmission of the virus” – giving the government extra control to fight the spread of infection.
It will mean people can be forcibly quarantined and will not be free to leave.
“Our infection control procedures are world leading and the NHS is well prepared to deal with novel coronavirus,” a Department of Health spokesperson said.
“We are strengthening our regulations so we can keep individuals in supported isolation for their own safety and if public health professionals consider they may be at risk of spreading the virus to other members of the public.
“This measure will rightly make it easier for health professionals to help keep people safe across the country.”
The measures designate Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral and Kents Hill Park, Milton Keynes, where sufferers are being treated, as “isolation” facilities and Wuhan and Hubei province in China as an “infected area”.
According to PA Media, the move was in response to one of the Britons who returned from Wuhan attempting to leave isolation.
A government source said “there was someone who was threatening to abscond from Arrowe Park” despite all the Britons who returned on the evacuation flight signing a contract agreeing to a 14-day quarantine period.
In response to concerns about whether those contracts were legally enforceable, the new action was taken to ensure that individuals can be kept in supported isolation.
“The transmission of coronavirus would represent a serious and imminent threat so to prevent that we are taking action to enforce isolation of certain individuals,” the source said.
easyJet revealed on Monday morning that it had been notified by the public health authority that a customer who had recently travelled on one of its flights had since been diagnosed with coronavirus.
“Public Health England is contacting all passengers who were seated in the vicinity of the customer on flight EZS8481 from Geneva to London Gatwick on 28 January to provide guidance in line with procedures,” a spokeswoman said.
“As the customer was not experiencing any symptoms, the risk to others on board the flight is very low.
“We remain in contact with the public health authorities and are following their guidance.
“The health and well-being of our passengers and crew is the airline’s highest priority.
“All of the crew who operated have been advised to monitor themselves for a 14-day period since the flight in line with Public Health England advice. Note this happened 12 days ago and none are displaying any symptoms.”
Dr Nick Phin, deputy director of the National Infection Service at Public Health England, said the new UK cases were all “closely linked and were rapidly identified”.
“Our priority is speaking to those people who have had close and sustained contact with confirmed cases so that we can advise them on what they can do to limit the spread of the virus,” he added.
China’s coronavirus death toll rose by 97 early on Monday to 908, with the number of confirmed cases on the country’s mainland increasing to 40,171
Meanwhile, 60 more people on a quarantined cruise ship have tested positive for coronavirus, Japan’s health minister has said.
There are now 130 confirmed cases on the Diamond Princess, quarantined in the port of Yokohama, near Tokyo, with officials previously saying 70 people had the virus among the 3,711 passengers and crew.
More than 3,600 people are still in a 14-day quarantine on board the ship.
A plane carrying British citizens evacuated from the virus-hit city of Wuhan landed in Oxfordshire on Sunday.
The flight, with more than 200 people on board, including some foreign nationals, arrived at RAF Brize Norton shortly before 7.30am.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was the second and final flight to be chartered by the government and had British Government staff and military medics on board.