Three more UK patients have been confirmed with coronavirus amid fears the NHS would ration care in a crisis.
A school near one of the patients was shut while across the country stores ran out of hand gel as shoppers began stockpiling.
Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “The NHS would find it hard to cope if the pandemic took off.”
It emerged tonight overstretched hospitals will be forced to treat only the patients most likely to survive if coronavirus takes hold in the UK.
Mr Hunt warned that other patients would face delays as resources were concentrated on the virus.
Mr Hunt, who chairs the Health Select Committee, said: “Even the NHS would find it hard to cope if the pandemic really did take off as hospital beds would soon fill up.
"There would also be a severe knock-on effect on waiting times for other treatments.”
It came as:
- Three new UK cases were confirmed today;
- Doctors told of a “three wise men” system where top consultants would decide who would get rationed care;
- A school was shut down in Buxton, Derbyshire, after a patient who had been on holiday to Tenerife became one of Britain’s latest victims;
- Hand sanitiser shortages were reported amid fears of panic buying;
- Shoppers told of stockpiling in case of lockdowns across the country.
- Global cases totalled 82,539 across 47 countries, with 2,812 deaths
Plans have emerged showing NHS patients could be denied care if intensive care units struggled to cope with a severe coronavirus outbreak.
Under the “three wise men” protocol, senior consultants at hospitals overwhelmed with patients would give priority to those most likely to survive and recover, and ration equipment such as beds and ventilators.
The scheme, developed after the 2009 swine flu pandemic, is still reportedly included in the plans of several NHS trusts.
Waits for treatments are already at record highs after 10 years of Tory austerity and with staff vacancies going unfilled.
The Northern Ireland patient confirmed to have the disease tonight had recently returned from Italy.
The case was revealed after two others were confirmed to have the virus after returning from Italy and Tenerife.
They were being treated at specialist NHS infection centres at the Royal Liverpool Hospital and Royal Free Hospital in North West London.
Today’s three new cases were the first in the UK not linked to the Far East. The virus has yet to spread between humans in the UK.
The Tenerife patient came down with symptoms of the disease after returning from the four-star Costa Adeje Palace hotel, where patients have been quarantined.
Medics in hazmat suits took the patient from their home in Buxton today.
A child connected to the patient is a pupil at Burbage Primary School which was shut down. A nearby health centre was also shut.
Dr Fu-Meng Khaw, of Public Health England East Midlands, said the agency was contacting people who had close contact with the patient.
Around 700 were quarantined at the Costa Adeje Palace hotel, including 160 Brits, after at least four guests were diagnosed with the virus.
Around 130 were told they could leave today, including 50 Brits. But fears have been raised that hundreds who left before the quarantine was imposed could have caught the infection but have not yet been diagnosed.
Government experts believe up to a fifth of the British workforce could go down sick if a pandemic takes hold.
World Health Organisation chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned governments to “act aggressively” to contain the crisis, saying major outbreaks in Italy and Iran had proved “what this virus is capable of”.
He said it would be a “fatal mistake, quite literally” for nations outside China – where new cases are down – to assume they will not be affected.
At least 13 UK schools have closed their doors over fears of the virus spreading and at least 20 more have sent pupils and teachers home for a fortnight after coming down with colds and coughs after ski trips to Italy.
A number of pupils and staff at Stockport Grammar School are self-isolating at home after returning from a trip to the Italian Alps.
Panic buying of hand sanitiser has reportedly led to shortages amid a national public awareness campaign encouraging frequent hand-washing.
A number of Boots stores imposed a two-bottle limit after a number of branches sold out.
It led to a boom in sales of surgical spirit on eBay and Amazon.
Shoppers told of stocking up on nappies, loo roll, soup, tinned fruit, pet food, medicine, bottled water and wine as they plan ahead in case of self-isolation.
Some have bought chest freezers to be sure of enough supplies and even set up portable toilets to avoid sharing a loo with a relative who tests positive.
The Government has said those who take advice to self-isolate at home for a fortnight are entitled to sick pay.
Tokyo 2020 could be the first Olympics to be cancelled during peacetime due to the crisis.
Games chief Toshir Muto said the torch relay, due to start on March 29, could be “downsized”.
Euro 2020, due to take place at venues across Europe from June 12 to July 12, is at a “waiting stage”.
Five Serie A league matches in Italy are being played behind closed doors this weekend, but England’s friendly against Italy at Wembley, on March 27, is still on.
In the Six Nations rugby, Ireland men’s and women’s matches against Italy in Dublin on March 7/8 are off.
At a glance
- Two new cases in UK bringing total to 15
- Pope ill day after masked audience on Ash Wednesday
- Suadia in ban on pilgrims… Japan closes all schools
- FTSE 100 dives £152billion in four days
Pope Francis, 83, cancelled a church service today after he was struck down with illness though there is no suggestion he has coronavirus as the outbreak in Italy topped 500 cases.
The outbreak will become a pandemic if it spreads worldwide. Antarctica is the only continent yet to record a case. Denmark was among the countries confirming their first cases today.
Saudi Arabia has stopped pilgrims entering the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. In Japan, all schools will close for several weeks.
US experts have reported the first case of unknown origin, which suggests the virus is spreading there. In China, where the virus began, 78,497 cases have been reported, including 2,744 deaths.
Historically the NHS has had annual funding increases of 4% to keep up with a growing older population and new technologies, but this has fallen to just 1% for most of the last decade.
Recent rises take it up to about 3.5% but experts say that is nowhere near enough to undo the damage.
A government spokesman said: “The UK is a world leader in preparing for and managing disease outbreaks, and our approach will always be led by medical experts.
“We’ve been clear from the outset that we expect coronavirus to have some impact on the UK and a global pandemic could have a pronounced effect on the NHS, which is why we are planning for every eventuality.”
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