Fourteen people in UK tested for coronavirus as WHO say 'too early' to declare international emergency

Fourteen people in the UK have been tested for coronavirus with five confirmed negative and nine still awaiting the results, Public Health England have said as experts warn there could be similar cases across many other cities in the UK.

Earlier, the Scottish government confirmed five people who had travelled from Wuhan - the Chinese city where the virus is thought to have originated - in the past two weeks and were showing symptoms of respiratory problems, a key indicator of the virus, were being tested.

Meanwhile, a patient was confirmed as being tested to rule out coronavirus at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital.

So far, 18 people have died and at least 571 are known to have contracted the disease.

Cases have been reported in the US, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong.

But despite the increasing death toll, the World Heath Organisation's emergency committee said on Thursday evening it is "too early" to declare an international public health emergency over the outbreak.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation, said: "Make no mistake. This is an emergency in China. But it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one."

  • ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke on whether we should be concerned about these new suspected cases in the UK

The suspected cases across the UK come after infections expert Professor Jurgen Haas Prof Haas, head of infection medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said he believes there will probably be similar cases in "many other cities" in the UK.

"The situation will be pretty similar in pretty much all UK cities with a large number of Chinese students," he said.

"It's not too surprising. My suspicion is that there will probably be many more cases in many other cities in the UK.

Nicola Sturgeon said she was monitoring the situation closely. Credit: PA

"None of the cases I know of have been confirmed."

The Scottish government said there were currently no confirmed cases of Coronavirus (WN Co-V) in the UK and "the risk to the Scottish public remains low."

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the situation was being closely monitored, adding: "I should say, that the risk to the public here in Scotland - and indeed the UK - is currently classified as low but that is kept under review."

A biohazard waste bin is wheeled out from a hospital in Wuhan. Credit: AP

She added: "Health Protection Scotland are liaising with NHS boards and are currently in daily contact with Public Health England, we’re also liaising daily with colleagues in the UK Department of Health – we’re also paying very close attention to the advice and the decisions that come from the World Health Organisation.”

Boris Johnson's spokesman confirmed the prime minister had seen reports of suspected coronavirus cases in Scotland but said measures were being taken as a precaution.

  • ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward in Beijing on the authorities efforts to contain the virus

UK authorities had increased screening checks at Heathrow Airport on Wednesday for the three flights a week which enter the country from Wuhan.

Wuhan, in the eastern Chinese province of Hubei, has since been put on a travel lockdown, with no trains, flights or long-journey bus trips leaving or entering the city where the new coronavirus is thought to have originated.

Other cities in the Hubei province have also been placed on lockdown as Chinese authorities attempt to halt the spread of the virus.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock had earlier delivered a statement to the House of Commons, saying the UK was "well prepared" to deal with the threat of the new deadly disease.

Matt Hancock said the UK was 'well prepared' to deal with the new coronavirus.

In a Commons statement, he told MPs: "The chief medical officer has revised the risk to the UK population from 'very low' to 'low' and has concluded that while there is an increased likelihood that cases may arise in this country, we are well prepared and well equipped to deal with them."

He added symptoms of the coronavirus do not typically appear until five to seven days, and sometimes up to 14 days after a person has been infected, making the task difficult for experts to detect.

  • Authorities in Wuhan patrol outside the city's main train station

It is believed the coronavirus originated at an animal food market in Wuhan, and is now possibly mutating and can spread from human-to-human.

There have been confirmed cases in the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Macao and South Korea.

The disease has spread to 21 of China's 23 provinces, with only Gansu and Inner Mongolia with no reported cases.

University lecturer Michael Pattison, who has lived in Wuhan for 15 years, said the clampdown on travel has had a huge impact on people in the city.

  • British university lecturer living in Wuhan explains the impact of the travel ban

He said: "It has disrupted people. Friends were expecting to be able to come back to Wuhan, now they're not sure.

"Colleagues who were going to fly back to Europe have had their flights cancelled, so they're stranded and a number of other colleagues who had flights to Malaysia have had their flights cancelled, so that's had an effect, clearly."

He added: "I'm grounded effectively so I'm staying in my apartment where I might have expected to travel a bit, move around a bit, visit friends and get out and about. Effectively, I'm grounded for now."