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Government moves to forcibly quarantine people after declaring coronavirus ‘imminent threat’

3 min read

Ministers are beefing up powers to force those suspected of coronavirus to stay quarantined after declaring it an "imminent threat" to public health.

The changes mean officials can impose new restrictions on any individual considered by health professionals to be at risk of spreading the virus.

The move comes amid reports that one of those flown back from Wuhan threatened to leave their isolation unit before the two-week period was over.

On Monday the number of UK nationals who have tested positive for the disease doubled to eight, after four more people were confirmed to have it by the Chief Medical Officer.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has declared “the incidence or transmission of novel coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health”.

But he said the risk to the UK public remains “moderate”, and said the latest announcement was to legally strengthen the means of “delaying or preventing further transmission of the virus”.

However a Government source claimed it had been made in response an unknown person indicating they might "abscond" from the Arrowe Park Hospital on Merseyside, where 83 British nationals were taken after being flown home from the virus epicentre.

Those who got on board the plane from Wuhan on January 31 signed a contract agreeing to two weeks of isolation at an NHS facility, meaning they are due to leave this Friday.

The Department of Health and Social Care say the new regulations, which have been put in place with immediate effect, apply “to any individuals seeking to leave supported isolation before the current quarantine period of 14 days is complete”.

Mr Hancock said: “I will do everything in my power to keep people in this country safe. We are taking every possible step to control the outbreak of coronavirus.

“NHS staff and others will now be supported with additional legal powers to keep people safe across the country.

“The transmission of coronavirus would constitute a serious threat - so I am taking action to protect the public and isolate those at risk of spreading the virus.”

Over the weekend a second government-chartered flight brought another 100 individuals from Hubei province to the UK, and they have been taken to the Kents Hill Park conference centre in Milton Keynes for the two-week illness incubation period.

The new UK cases are all understood to be contacts of a businessman who contracted the virus in Singapore, before flying to a ski resort in France where five other Britons were subsequently taken ill.

The Department of Health said the four people newly-diagnosed contracted the virus in France and are being treated at specialist infection centres at St Thomas' and the Royal Free hospitals in London.

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