First UK death in coronavirus outbreak: health authorities

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LONDON: Britain has recorded its first death in the new coronavirus outbreak, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said on Thursday, as the total number of confirmed cases jumped to 115. “I am very sorry to report a patient in England who tested positive for COVID-19 has sadly died,” he said, adding the victim was elderly and had “underlying health conditions”.

The patient was being treated at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, west of London, and is believed to have contracted the virus in Britain, he added. The announcement came as the total number of confirmed cases in Britain rose to 115, after 25 more patients tested positive in England.

Of those, 17 recently travelled from “recognised countries or from recognised clusters”, Whitty said in a separate statement earlier on Thursday. “Eight patients were identified in the UK where it is not yet clear whether they contracted it directly or indirectly from an individual who had recently returned from abroad,” he added.

“This is being investigated and contact tracing has begun.” The government this week published contingency plans for a widespread outbreak of the virus, which has infected more than 96,000 people and seen over 3,300 die around the world.

Whitty and Britain’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance briefed Prime Minister Boris Johnson after emergency planning meetings. Johnson’s spokesman said “decisions will be taken, possibly as early as next week, to announce certain steps” to delay the spread of the virus.

“We will continue to try to contain this virus, however it is now highly likely that the virus is going to spread in a significant way,” he told reporters. “Officials will therefore accelerate work on preparations for the delay phase of the government’s plan… This will include detailed work on the optimum time to introduce further measures.” Measures to be introduced when the virus peaks could include asking people to work from home, reducing large gatherings such as football matches and shutting schools.

On Thursday, rugby union officials announced the postponement of England’s Six Nations match on March 14 with Italy, where 11 towns are under quarantine. AFP