A patient with underlying health conditions has become the first person in the UK to die after testing positive for coronavirus.
The older patient, reported to be a woman in her 70s, had been “in and out of hospital” for other reasons, but was admitted on Wednesday evening to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading and tested positive.
The news comes as cases of coronavirus in the UK have more than doubled in 48 hours, and the country moves towards the “delay phase” of tackling the virus.
Some 116 people have tested positive, including 105 in England, two in Wales, six in Scotland and three in Northern Ireland.
Just two days ago there were 51 UK cases.
A statement from the Royal Berkshire NHS Trust said: “Sadly, we can confirm that an older patient with underlying health conditions has died.
“The patient has previously been in and out of hospital for non-coronavirus reasons, but on this occasion was admitted and last night tested positive for coronavirus.
“The family has been informed and our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.”
England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said he was “very sorry” to report the news and offered “sincere condolences” to the family.
He added: “We believe they contracted the virus in the UK and contact tracing is already under way.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson added: “Our sympathies are very much with the victim and their family,” while Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “My sincere condolences to their family and loved ones. We will work tirelessly to protect the public from this disease.”
Officials later confirmed 18 people diagnosed with coronavirus have since recovered, while 45 of the confirmed cases are being treated at home.
Last week, Japanese authorities said a British tourist who had been on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined in Japan, had died after contracting the virus.
On Wednesday, Government advice was updated to urge anyone returning to the UK from “lockdown” areas in northern Italy to self-isolate regardless of whether they have symptoms, while travellers from any other part of the country should call 111 or self-isolate if they feel unwell.
Downing Street on Thursday said it is “highly likely” that coronavirus will now spread in a “significant way”.
Earlier, Prof Whitty warned that critical care beds in the NHS could come under intense pressure during a coronavirus epidemic.
He later added at a press conference that people with “very minimal” symptoms should stay at home because it would be “safer and more pleasant” for them.
UPDATE on coronavirus (#COVID19) testing in the UK:
As of 9am 5 March 2020, a total of 18,083 people have been tested:
17,968 negative.115 positive.
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) March 5, 2020
Of the new cases, 17 people had recently travelled from countries or clusters already under investigation, while eight people contracted the virus in the UK and are being investigated.
Out of the cases identified in England, 25 of them are in London.
The North West and South East each have 17 cases, the South West 15, the East of England eight, the Midlands nine and the North East and Yorkshire 10 cases.
Four other cases are still to be determined.
Local regions reported that two new cases were in Staffordshire, one was linked to the University of Sussex in Brighton, two were in Wigan, one in Rotherham, two in Liverpool, and one in Birmingham.
In other key developments:
– ITV revealed that travel companies are deferring their TV advertising because of the disease, with advertising revenue due to drop 10% in April.
– The Grand Princess cruise ship, with around 2,500 passengers and 1,000 crew, is being held off the coast of California after a former passenger died from Covid-19.
– Starbucks said it was “pausing the use of personal cups” and washable ceramic cups for those drinking their beverage in the UK, US and Canadian stores due to coronavirus fears.
– England’s Six Nations rugby match against Italy on March 14 in Rome has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
– A statement from HSBC said one of its employees at Canary Wharf had been infected.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty (PA)
Prof Whitty gave evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee, with MPs including former health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
He said it would be “lucky” to get a vaccine for Covid-19 in the next year, but it would “not get us out of a hole now”, although other treatments may work.
Prof Whitty acknowledged that people needing oxygen would stretch the health service, and said some “things may be considerably less well done” during the peak of an epidemic.
Half of all coronavirus cases in the UK are most likely to occur in just a three-week period, with 95% of them over a nine-week period, he said.
In a worst-case scenario, “the ratio of doctors to patients and nurses to patients would inevitably go down very sharply for a short period of time”, Prof Whitty said, but he added the NHS is “incredibly good at flexing” to meet demands.
Prof Whitty said he had a “reasonably high degree of confidence” that 1% is at the “upper limit” of the mortality rate for coronavirus, although Wuhan in China, which has a weaker health system, had seen an 8% to 9% mortality rate for those aged 80 and over.
He said the UK has now mainly moved to the delay stage of tackling the virus, which could include measures such as school closures, encouraging greater home working, and reducing the number of large-scale gatherings.
However, Prof Whitty said closing schools would possibly only have a “marginal effect”, adding that children do not appear to be as badly affected by Covid-19 as other groups.
‘Things like closing schools and stopping big events perhaps don’t work as well as people think’.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the UK’s response to coronavirus moving to its second ‘delay’ phase. pic.twitter.com/Xx5weHtWwr
— This Morning (@thismorning) March 5, 2020
But the Prime Minister appeared to contradict Prof Whitty, insisting the country was still in the contain stage.
He told reporters: “The situation is pretty much as it has been in the sense that we are still in the contain phase, though now our scientists and medical advisers are making preparations for the delay phase.”
Prof Whitty said elderly people should not self-isolate yet, and neither should those with conditions such as asthma, adding there was no evidence of “deep harm” in children with asthma.
And he said pregnant women should not start worrying about coronavirus, but advised any smoker to stop.
Symptoms of Covid-19 appear around five days after infection, he said. It then takes up to a week to recover, with the serious illness setting in for some after six days.