Matt Hancock – 2020 Statement on the Wuhan Coronavirus

Below is the text of the statement made by Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health, in the House of Commons on 11 February 2020.

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will update the House on the response to the Wuhan coronavirus.

I have laid an instrument before the House to confirm the power we have taken to isolate those at risk of spreading the virus, and if necessary to keep them isolated as part of our belt-and-braces approach to protecting the public. The powers are proportionate and will help us slow down transmission of the virus and make it easier for NHS and public health staff to do their jobs.

The clinical advice about the risks to the public has not changed, and remains moderate. As of today, eight people in England have tested positive for coronavirus; all are receiving expert care from the NHS, which is well prepared and equipped to deal with this kind of situation. Contact tracing of the first four cases has been undertaken rapidly and is now complete, while tracing for the latest four cases is ongoing. This contact tracing itself identified five of the cases, a tribute to the skill and tenacity of Public Health England staff, as well as finding a further five British nationals in France, who have also tested positive for the virus. They are now receiving treatment, and the Foreign Office is following up with consular support.

On Sunday, 105 more British nationals and dependants from Hubei province landed safely at Brize Norton. They are now in isolation facilities at Kents Hill park in Milton Keynes and are receiving all the necessary medical attention. I want to pay tribute to the Foreign Office and the MOD, as well as Milton Keynes Council and Milton Keynes hospital and my own team, for their hard work and efficiency in ensuring that this all went smoothly. These steps are, of course, in addition to those for people now reaching the end of their isolation on the Wirral.

Turning to the efforts to contain the outbreak in China, the Foreign Office is advising against all travel to Hubei province and all but essential travel to mainland China. Last week, we issued new advice to all travellers returning to the UK from China, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. That advice is clear: if you develop symptoms of cough, fever or shortness of breath, you should call NHS 111 and immediately self-isolate for 14 days, even if symptoms are minor; if you have returned from Hubei, you should self-isolate and contact NHS 111 even if you have no symptoms.

My officials discussed the incubation period with the World Health Organisation this morning. The current evidence shows that a 14-day incubation period remains appropriate. We will continue to monitor emerging evidence closely with our international partners.

As I said last week, dealing with this disease is a marathon, not a sprint. The situation will get worse before it gets better. We will be guided by the science. Be in no doubt: we will do everything that is effective to tackle this virus and keep people safe. We are investing £40 million in vaccine research and are working with international efforts on therapeutics, and today I can announce to the House the immediate launch of a capital facility to support any urgent works the NHS needs for the coronavirus response, such as the creation of further isolation areas and other necessary facilities.

Finally, there are actions each and every one of us can take—simple but effective steps like washing hands and using tissues. We will take all necessary precautions to keep the public safe, and I commend this statement to the House.