Police in the UK have been given the power to seize people in danger of spreading coronavirus and force them into isolation in handcuffs, the government announced today.
A new law was hurriedly brought into force after a patient staying at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral reportedly tried to leave before completing the 14-day stay after his return from China.
Government sources said those who returned to the UK on the evacuation flights on January 31 were given a ‘very clear choice’ and had to sign contracts saying they would remain in isolation for a fortnight.
But a source involved with the Arrowe Park incident said: ‘We found we didn’t have the necessary enforcement powers to make sure they didn’t leave.’
Police will now be able to force people to remain in the units and, if they leave, to arrest them for committing an offence and take them back to the quarantine facility, MailOnline understands.
And they will also be allowed to hunt down and capture people if they ‘may be infected or contaminated [and] could present a risk to public health’.
This extraordinary power comes after footage from China showed a team of around a dozen security officials chasing a suspected coronavirus patient through the streets in a bid to catch them.
England today announced its fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth cases of the virus in Brighton – all of the three men and a woman are linked to the fourth patient, who has now been dubbed a ‘super-spreader’.
The fourth patient was a businessman who returned to the UK from a conference in Singapore via a ski chalet in France, where other Britons were subsequently taken ill with the virus.
The Department of Health today declared the outbreak a ‘serious and imminent’ threat to the British public as it announced new powers to fight the spread.
In other developments to the outbreak today:
- World Health Organization chief warns coronavirus outbreak could ‘only be the tip of the iceberg’ amid fears thousands of cases are going missing
- Just under a fifth of known cases of the new coronavirus in China may be resulting in death, a new report estimates
- The coronavirus can survive on door handles and bus or train poles for up to nine days – more than four times longer than flu, according to research
- London’s FTSE 100 weakened after Mr Hancock declared the coronavirus outbreak a serious and imminent threat to public health
- Nearly 100 people died from coronavirus in China yesterday on the deadliest day of the six-week outbreak so far
- Amazon and Sony are the latest companies to pull out of this month’s Mobile World Congress, due to be held in Barcelona, because of the coronavirus outbreak
- Sixty-six more passengers on a cruise ship in Japan have been diagnosed the killer infection, taking the ship’s toll to around 136
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said of today’s new regulation: ‘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.
‘Clinical advice has not changed about the risk to the public, which remains moderate. We are taking a belt and braces approach to all necessary precautions to ensure public safety.
‘Our infection control procedures are world leading – what I am announcing today further strengthens our response.’
Mr Hancock said that the new measures ‘are considered as an effective means of delaying or preventing further transmission of the virus.’
The regulations have been issued under the 1984 Public Health (Control of Disease) Act, which grants the Health Secretary powers to stop illnesses spreading.
They take effect immediately, putting into law the power to capture and detain people who are suspected of having the coronavirus. It is understood that the police will have the power to force people to comply if necessary.
Arrowe Park Hospital in Merseyside and Kents Hill Park in Milton Keynes are now designated as ‘isolation’ facilities – it is primarily the people staying in these facilities who will be affected by the new regulation.
There are currently 93 UK citizens at Arrowe Park and 105 in Milton Keynes. Another man, who felt ill on a China evacuation flight, is being kept in isolation at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
Nobody who was evacuated from Wuhan is known to have brought the virus back with them – all cases in the UK so far have been among others who travelled to Asia or came into contact with people who did.
As of today at 2pm, a total of 1,114 people have been tested for the coronavirus and 1,106 have been negative, with eight testing positive.
The first 83 Britons evacuated from Wuhan should have completed 14 days in quarantine on Thursday after they landed at RAF Brize Norton on Friday, January 31.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said this morning: ‘Our infection control procedures are world leading and the NHS is well prepared to deal with novel coronavirus.
‘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.’
It comes after a British man who caught coronavirus in Singapore appears to be linked to at least seven other confirmed cases in England, France and Spain.
Health officials are not confirming a link or giving detail on his relationship to the other people diagnosed with the illness, but he is reported to be a middle-aged British man and is understood to have been the first UK national to contract the disease.
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