‘Now we could have it too’: Diamond Princess evacuees angry at sharing the flight back to UK with four people who were diagnosed with coronavirus after landing – and bus drivers who didn’t wear masks are ‘at risk’
- A total of 32 holidaymakers were brought home from Japan at the weekend
- Taken by bus from Wiltshire to Merseyside before four were diagnosed
- Evacuees said they were told only people proven to be healthy would be flown
- A microbiologist said the bus drivers may have been exposed to the virus
Britons who were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship at the weekend are angry that officials allowed infected people to fly alongside them.
Four of the 32 British and Irish people who were flown home were diagnosed with the illness, COVID-19, after being driven to quarantine in Merseyside.
One scientist said it was ‘indefensible’ that people mid-way through diagnostic tests were allowed to fly with those who had been proven to be healthy.
The other passengers, who must spend at least another two weeks in isolation, reportedly feel they have been put at risk by the decision.
It comes as an expert today warned that the bus drivers who transported the evacuees may be ‘at risk’ of infection after being cooped up with them for the four-hour, 200-mile drive on Saturday.
The drivers were pictured without masks and it’s not known whether they have gone into quarantine alongside those who flew home from Japan.
Around 80,000 people have now been diagnosed with COVID-19 and more than 2,600 have died.
A bus driver is pictured transporting passengers away from Boscombe Down military base in Wiltshire on Sunday
Another driver is seen without any protective equipment as the coaches left for a quarantine facility in Merseyside
A total of 32 British people from the Diamond Princess cruise ship were brought back to the UK on a plane chartered by the government at the weekend (Pictured, the plane landing at Boscombe Down airbase in Wiltshire)
A total of 28 people have gone into quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral, Merseyside, after returning from the Diamond Princess in Yokohama, Japan.
Four other returnees have been taken to specialist infectious diseases units in hospitals in Liverpool, Sheffield and Newcastle after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
Sky News reports that the people who flew back with them have been exchanging angry messages on WhatsApp about the sick people being allowed to fly.
One said they were told nobody would be allowed to fly unless they could prove they were healthy.
And another added: ‘They let them fly without the results, so they have put us in a position where we now could have it too.’
Dr Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia, told Sky: ‘How anybody would think that you could actually take samples from people to make sure they’re not positive and then put them on a plane to tell them a few days later is indefensible.’
The fact that four of the passengers have been diagnosed with the virus also raised concerns about the bus drivers.
Two of them were clearly seen not wearing any protective equipment and the government could not confirm whether they would go into isolation after the job.
None of the drivers from previous evacuations were made to go into quarantine, although those from the first job did self-isolate at home after the trip.
One microbiologist today told MailOnline there is no reliable way to protect someone on a bus from a virus that can circulate in the air.
Dr Simon Clarke, from the University of Reading, said face masks wouldn’t protect drivers from the virus but that they were at risk of getting infected because the virus could ‘circulate’ in the air on the bus.
He said: ‘Masks probably would have made no difference at all because viruses are too small [to be caught by the filters].
‘The coach drivers should be treated in the same way as anybody else who has come into contact with someone who might have the coronavirus.
‘There is no reliable way of protecting them in a bus environment unless they’re completely sealed up in a bag with a respirator…
‘They are at as much risk as the people who are [looking after] people at Arrowe Park Hospital and they should be dealt with in the same way, whatever that is.’
A total of 32 people were brought back to the UK from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which is moored of the coast of Yokohama, Japan
The evacuation flight (pictured landing in Wiltshire) took off from Tokyo and flew passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship back to the UK
Currently, the NHS tells people who think they could have the coronavirus to stay at home for two weeks and not to have close contact with other people.
Drivers doing the same evacuation jobs in other countries, including France and Canada, were pictured in at least face masks, with some in full hazmat suits.
HOW HAS CHINA’S CORONAVIRUS SPREAD OVER TIME?
The vast majority of confirmed infections of the Wuhan coronavirus have been diagnosed in China.
But more than 25 countries or territories outside of the mainland have also declared infections:
- Bahrain: February 24
- Kuwait: February 24
- Afghanistan: February 24
- Lebanon: February 21
- Israel: February 21
- Iran: February 19
- Egypt: February 14
- Belgium: February 4
- Diamond Princess cruise ship: Feb 1
- Spain: January 31
- Sweden: January 31
- Russia: January 31
- UK: January 31
- India: January 30
- Philippines: January 30
- Italy: January 30
- Finland: January 29
- United Arab Emirates: January 29
- Germany: January 27
- Sri Lanka: January 27
- Cambodia: January 27
- Canada: January 25
- Australia: January 25
- Malaysia: January 25
- France: January 24
- Nepal: January 24
- Vietnam: January 24
- Singapore: January 23
- Macau: January 22
- Hong Kong: January 22
- Taiwan: January 21
- USA: January 20
- South Korea: January 20
- Japan: January 16
- Thailand: January 13
The UK bus drivers picked up their passengers from Boscombe Down military base in Amesbury, Wiltshire, on Saturday after the evacuation flight landed.
And they took them to Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral, Merseyside, where all the holidaymakers must spend two weeks in isolation.
It is not known which company the bus drivers on Saturday’s job worked for, nor whether they will spend any time in isolation after the four passengers were diagnosed.
The drivers for the first evacuation, employees of Horseman Coaches in Reading, were told to spend two weeks at home away from other people in case they had been exposed.
One of the buses used at Boscombe Down was once owned by a Cardiff-based company, Wheadon’s.
When approached, the company refused to confirm or deny whether it had transported the evacuated Diamond Princess passengers and claimed it had sold the coach in question.
An accommodation block at the hospital in north-west England has been repurposed during the outbreak as a quarantine building for people at risk of having the coronavirus after returning on evacuation flights.
Saturday’s flight was the fourth to bring British people home from East Asia to get them away from the outbreak.
When concerns were raised that drivers on the first Wuhan evacuation had not worn face masks, the government said it wasn’t necessary.
The Department of Health at the time said no protective gear was required because the risk to drivers was ‘very low.’
Bus drivers transporting evacuees in other countries have been pictured wearing protective gear while working.
Those in France were pictured wearing face masks when driving people who had been evacuated from Wuhan on February 21.
And Canadian passengers taken off the Diamond Princess cruise liner were driven in Ontario by a driver with a mask.
In Japan, a coach crew were pictured wearing full-body hazmat suits and goggles when they transported people off the Diamond Princess on Friday.
A bus driver in France wore a face mask as he drove 34 French citizens who had been in Wuhan to quarantine on Friday, February 21
A bus at Trenton air force base in Quinte West, Ontario, transports Canadian passengers who were rescued from the Diamond Princess cruise ship on February 21. The driver is wearing a face mask along with medical officers and passengers
Drivers in Japan took no chances and wore full protective gear as they drove passengers from virus-stricken ship on Friday
The UK’s fourth evacuation flight was organised after a coronavirus outbreak took hold on the Diamond Princess and the virus spread to at least 690 people on board.
An attempt to quarantine the holidaymakers on the ship and prevent them taking the virus onto land failed and the illness continued to spread even after two weeks of shutdown.
Now everyone who was on the liner must spend another two weeks cut off from the world to make sure they are not infected with the virus.
Anyone who remains healthy for two weeks after the last time they could have been exposed to the virus can be considered virus-free.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE DEADLY CORONAVIRUS IN CHINA?
Someone who is infected with the coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.
Over 2,600 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 79,000 have been infected. But experts predict the true number of people with the disease could be as high as 350,000 in Wuhan alone. 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 24, around 80,000 people had been infected and some 2,600 had died.
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.
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.
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.
There is now evidence that it can spread third hand – to someone from a person who caught it from another 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 – at least 97 per cent, based on available data – will recover from these without any issues or medical help.
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.
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.
However, experts say the true number of patients is likely considerably higher and therefore the death rate considerably lower. Imperial College London researchers estimate that there were 4,000 (up to 9,700) cases in Wuhan city alone up to January 18 – officially there were only 444 there to that date. If cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the virus may be far less dangerous than currently believed, but also far more widespread.
Experts say it is likely only the most seriously ill patients who are seeking help and are therefore recorded – the vast majority will have only mild, cold-like symptoms. For those whose conditions do become more severe, there is a risk of developing pneumonia which can destroy the lungs and kill them.
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 is an epidemic, which is when a disease takes hold of one community such as a country or region.
Although it has spread to dozens of countries, the outbreak is not yet classed as a pandemic, which is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.
The head of WHO’s global infectious hazard preparedness, Dr Sylvie Briand, said: ‘Currently we are not in a pandemic. We are at the phase where it is an epidemic with multiple foci, and we try to extinguish the transmission in each of these foci,’ the Guardian reported.
She said that 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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