Hunt for Surrey's coronavirus patient zero

Hunt for Surrey’s patient zero: Health officials desperately trying to track down coronavirus super-spreader believe he could be an acquaintance of infected GP’s partner

  • The patient, from Surrey, is understood to be a man who was recently treated at the Haslemere Health Centre  
  • Boris Johnson has agreed to chair a Cobra meeting on Monday amid calls for Number 10 to take drastic action 
  • Government has drawn up ‘worst case scenario’ strategy blueprint, which involves deploying military medics  

Health officials are desperately trying to track down a coronavirus super-spreader who could have unwittingly passed the disease on to two people in Surrey.

Those hunting for the county’s so-called ‘patient zero’ believe that the person in question may be an acquaintance of an infected GP’s partner. 

The victim is understood to be a man who was treated at Haslemere Health Centre before being transferred to Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital in London.      

He was the first case to be identified in Britain and his partner, who has also developed symptoms, works with at least one person who recently returned to the UK from Italy, Europe’s worst-hit country in the crisis. 

England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, told the Sunday Times it is not clear if the Surrey GP contracted the virus ‘directly or indirectly’ from somebody who had recently been abroad. 

The patient, from Surrey, is understood to be a man who was treated at Haslemere Health Centre before being transferred to Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital in London. The health centre has opened today following a deep clean

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt today confirmed a GP, thought to work at the health centre where the latest person fell ill, is showing symptoms of the infection and spoke of a ‘worrying time’ for those in the county.

It comes after another UK coronavirus patient was confirmed on Thursday and is believed to be from Surrey. He had returned from Milan, but had not travelled to the core virus hotspot areas of northern Italy.

Schools in the area were closed after pupils and staff begun showing mild flu-like symptoms.  Authorities are now racing to track down the spreader to avoid them contaminating more people. 

It is not known whether they had arrived in the country from abroad, where many countries including Italy, South Korea, Japan and Iran are firefighting major outbreaks.

There are now concerns the county could become a disease hotspot should the GP showing symptoms be confirmed to have coronavirus – amid fears he could have also infected others.  

The GP, whose wife is also a doctor, would have seen scores of patients before falling ill, according to The Guardian.

His diagnosis has yet to be publicly confirmed by Public Health England, NHS England or the Department of Health and Social Care.    

But Mr Hunt, the MP for Farnham, this morning tweeted: ‘Thinking of clinicians, staff and patients at the Haslemere Health Centre…worrying time but I know local NHS and @SurreyCouncil working tirelessly to keep everyone as safe as possible. Thoughts today with new Covid19 patient and local GP with symptoms alongside their families.’  

Shocked locals yesterday spoke of how, when visiting the Surrey surgery, staff suddenly told them the medical centre needed to close for an urgent deep clean.

One told Surrey Live: ‘I was waiting on my own, keeping my distance from others. At about 8.50am, they announced that someone had been taken unwell and they were shutting for a deep clean.

‘There were about 10 of us in there at the time. I phoned them and they said no appointments are being made until Monday. I spoke to a GP and they said not to worry about air exposure, but there is a chance they may clean it.’

The health centre re-opened today following a deep clean. 

All Hallows Catholic School in Farnham and St Peter’s C Of E Middle School in Old Windsor, near Runnymede, were among the schools to close this week amid fears of a coronavirus outbreak.  

The UK’s 20th coronavirus patient has been confirmed, marking the first case to have caught the infection on British soil. He came from Surrey

People wearing face masks in Trafalgar Square, London, as the first case of coronavirus has been confirmed in Wales and two more were identified in England – bringing the total number in the UK to 20

How Surrey has become a possible coronavirus hotspot: Two schools in the area closed this week amid reports of pupils with flu-like symptoms. While there was a first suspected case of coronavirus in East Horsley, Surrey before another was believed to have been confirmed in a patient at Haslemere Health Centre

The news comes as: 

  • Emergency laws are being rushed in to ensure public services and the transport network can keep on operating
  • Scientists fear coronavirus could be 1,000 times more infectious than SARS which killed almost 800 worldwide
  • One in ten Britons could be hospitalised with coronavirus according to NHS officials who are preparing for worst
  • There were fears a GP may also have been infected with the virus but this has yet to be confirmed 
  • More than 1,000 workers at the London offices of law firm Baker McKenzie, based in the heart of London’s financial district, were sent home after an employee returning home from northern Italy fell ill 

Last night’s 20th confirmed diagnosis came after a flurry of cases sprouted up in the UK within 36 hours, including in Northern Ireland and Wales. 

This morning, health minister Edward Argar refused to comment on reports that the first person to contract coronavirus in the UK also passed it on to their doctor.

He said: ‘It is a new development but the chief medical officer has also said we are still doing the contact tracing around that and we are still looking into the details of that case, so it is probably a bit premature to say more than that at the moment.’    

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt today confirmed a GP, thought to work at the health centre where the latest person fell ill, is also showing symptoms of the infection and spoke of a ‘worrying time’ for those in the county

Mr Argar also defended the Prime Minister against criticism that he had been slow to act on coronavirus, having delayed chairing his first emergency Cobra meeting on the outbreak until Monday.

It comes as the Government prepares to bring in new emergency powers to help stop the virus spreading.

It is understood that this will give schools, councils and other parts of the public sector powers to suspend laws – including health and safety measures – to cope with a pandemic.

Nobody in the UK has so far died from coronavirus, but yesterday a British man quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship passed away in Japan. This first British fatality is understood to be a man in his 70s who did not live in the UK.  

Boris Johnson yesterday insisted he had a grip on the health crisis and said preventing a major British outbreak was the government’s ‘top priority’.  

All Hallows Catholic School in Farnham (pictured) and St Peter’s C Of E Middle School in Old Windsor, near Runnymede, were among the schools to close last week amid fears of a coronavirus outbreak

St Peter’s C Of E Middle School in Old Windsor, near Runnymede in Surrey, was also closed last week for a ‘deep clean’ amid coronavirus fears

They contracted the illness in England before being rushed for treatment at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital in London, the chief medical officer revealed last night

US law firm Baker McKenzie orders 1,100 staff at its London office to work from home after employee falls ill with suspected coronavirus 

A US law firm has ordered 1,100 staff members at its London headquarters to work from home today after an employee returning from Northern Italy fell ill.  

Baker McKenzie, based in the heart of the capital’s financial district, has ordered staff to work remotely.  

Baker McKenzie, based in the heart of London’s financial district, has ordered staff to work remotely

And while staff work from home, the London HQ will undergo a deep clean before updating workers on Sunday evening if the staff member has tested positive for the virus.

Italy is the site of Europe’s worst outbreak so far, with 889 people infected and 21 dead, but authorities in some less-affected areas have re-opened schools and museums in an effort to bring daily life back to normal. 

A Baker McKenzie spokesman said: ‘Our priority is the health and well being of our clients and we have asked out London office employees to work from home.

‘We continue to closely monitor the situation and are following the advice and guidance issued by the government and Public Health England,’ the spokesman added. 

The government has drawn up a ‘worst case scenario’ strategy blueprint, which involves deploying military medics to hospitals.

And emergency laws include the ability to suspend maximum class sizes to allow teachers to take on pupils when colleagues are off sick.

After being branded a ‘part-time prime minister’ for his slow response, he reassured the public that he had held meetings with the health secretary and chief medical officer, who broke the news of the country’s 20th case.  

Professor Chris Whitty said in a statement: ‘One further patient in England has tested positive for COVID-19.

‘The virus was passed on in the UK. It is not yet clear whether they contracted it directly or indirectly from an individual who had recently returned from abroad. 

‘This is being investigated and contact tracing has begun. The patient has been transferred to a specialist NHS infection centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’. 

Elsewhere, schools across the country have closed or forced children and staff to self-isolate amid reports of flu-like symptoms.  

Since the flu-like virus spawned in Wuhan, China, late last year, it has infected more than 84,000 and killed at least 2,800. 

Experts reacted to last night’s announcement by warning it ‘marked a new chapter’ in the UK’s battle against the global epidemic.

Prof Jonathan Ball, of Molecular Virology, University of Nottingham, said: ‘This case – a person testing positive for novel coronavirus with no known link to an affected area or known case – marks a new chapter for the UK, and it will be crucial to understand where the infection came from to try and prevent more extensive spread.’

‘This was always a concern – this is a virus that frequently causes symptoms very similar to mild flu or a common cold, and it’s easily transmitted from person to person. This means it can easily go under the radar.’ 

Dr Alison Barnett, centre director for PHE South East, said: ‘One of the latest cases is a resident of Surrey and we’re working closely with NHS colleagues in that area as well as Surrey County Council to manage the situation and help reduce the risk of further cases.

‘Close contacts will be given health advice about symptoms and emergency contact details to use if they become unwell in the 14 days after contact with the confirmed case.

‘This tried and tested method will ensure we are able to minimise any risk to them and the wider public.’

Although Dr Barnett said ‘one of the latest cases’ is from Surrey, MailOnline understands this refers to the 20th patient announced tonight.  

Signs were posted today at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, where staff will test patients for coronavirus

A sheet of paper was taped to a sign at Western General Hospital in Edinburgh today amid coronavirus testing of patients

Ministers rush in coronavirus emergency laws 

Boris Johnson speaking yesterday

Emergency laws to tackle coronavirus are being rushed in after the outbreak claimed its first British life yesterday.

The measures will be announced next week to ensure public services and the transport network can keep operating if the crisis worsens.

The unnamed British victim died in Japan after contracting the virus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. He was one of 78 UK citizens on the vessel moored in Yokohama.

Four more British cases were announced yesterday, bringing the total to 20.

The new laws will include the ability to suspend maximum class sizes to allow teachers to take on pupils when colleagues are off sick. Lessons could take place outside schools.

Ministers are also considering suspending laws that limit lorry drivers to 56 hours a week to stop supply chains collapsing if sickness levels rise. In a ‘worst case scenario’, military doctors could help in NHS hospitals.

Mr Johnson last night took personal charge of Britain’s response to the crisis, as critics urged him to ‘get a grip’.

He convened a meeting in No 10 last night to discuss contingency plans and will chair a meeting of the Government’s emergency Cobra committee on Monday.

Military doctors, the British Red Cross and St John’s Ambulance medics will be deployed to hospitals in the government’s ‘worst case scenario’ blueprint.

This Surrey patient has not been identified, however the BBC reported he was a man and had been treated at the Haslemere clinic.

A father-of-two in his 40s, from Swansea, was confirmed to be the first case in Wales on Friday after he returned from the Italian ski resort, Passo del Tonale, and fell ill. 

He was helicoptered to hospital and around a dozen of his friends are now in quarantine at home. 

Another one of the recent confirmed cases is also thought to be a 43-year-old mother from Buxton, Derbyshire. 

Amid the growing crisis, Mr Johnson finally stepped in to take charge of the spiralling crisis by agreeing to chair a Cobra emergency meeting arranged for Monday. 

In a signal the government was cranking up its response, emergency laws have been drafted to tackle a possible outbreak.

The new laws will include the ability to suspend maximum class sizes to allow teachers to take on pupils when colleagues are off sick. Lessons could take place outside schools.

Ministers are also considering suspending laws that limit lorry drivers to 56 hours a week to stop supply chains collapsing if sickness levels rise. 

In a ‘worst case scenario’, military doctors could be deployed with Red Cross and St John’s Ambulance staff to help in NHS hospitals. 

But furious politicians slammed the ‘part-time’ Prime Minister, saying it shouldn’t take three days for the meeting to take place, while former chancellor George Osborne demanded that the government go on a ‘war footing’ to reassure the ‘fearful’ public with regular Cobra meetings and daily press briefings. 

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday warned Britain was at a ‘tipping point’, saying the NHS would struggle with a pandemic and that hundreds of thousands of lives could be at risk if this outbreak escalates.

Health Minister Helen Whately said it was ‘likely’ more people in the UK would contract coronavirus and that plans were in place should it become a pandemic.

The Conservative MP told BBC Newsnight: ‘I can’t reiterate enough that we are well prepared but we do have to recognise that it is likely we will see more cases in the UK.

‘We have plans in place and have carried out exercises so in the event of something like a ‘flu pandemic, we are ready.’

Asked whether that meant mass gatherings could be banned and schools closed, such as in parts of Italy, she said such measures were ‘being considered’. 

A coronavirus pod set up in the car park area of the A&E department at Lewisham hospital in South East London

It comes as the Government prepares to bring in new emergency powers to help stop the virus spreading. The PA news agency understands that this will give schools, councils and other parts of the public sector powers to suspend laws – including health and safety measures – to cope with a pandemic (pictured, a coronavirus pod in east London)

Coronavirus is already taking its toll on everyday British life, with some schools and businesses closed and fears growing that major events such as Ascot, the Grand National and the Premier League football season could be shelved. 

The crisis, which is escalating outside of China, has rocked world financial markets – £250billion has been wiped off of London’s FTSE100 this week. 

Globally, shares are down about $6trillion (£4.7trillion) overall this week and Wall Street is also bracing itself after Dow Jones plunged another 1,000 points for the third day this week. 

One in ten Britons could end up in hospital with coronavirus, warns NHS 

A bus passenger wears a protective mask in London

One in ten Britons could end up in hospital with coronavirus according to NHS officials who are drawing up a ‘battle plan’ to tackle the deadly outbreak.  

The latest case is the first time a patient has caught the infection on British soil, marking a ‘new chapter’ in the country’s spiralling health crisis.

Procedures to dispose of corpses would be sped up in a desperate move that would save thousands of lives.

Nickie Aiken, Conservative MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, confirmed that London’s Hyde Park would be turned into a morgue if the killer outbreak continues to escalate. 

A massive 70 per cent of Britons could catch the killer bug and 15 per cent of those may be hospitalized, The Daily Telegraph reports. 

Health Minister Helen Whately said it was ‘likely’ more people in the UK would contract coronavirus and that plans were in place should it become a pandemic.   

Public Health England’s attempt to trace people who have been in contact with him is believed to include patients who had appointments this week.

Details have now emerged about Wales’s first coronavirus patient, who is a businessman and father-of-two and caught the killer illness on a family skiing holiday in northern Italy.

He has ‘has been out drinking and socialising’ since flying home and was rushed to hospital in a helicopter on Thursday night, neighbours said.  

At least a dozen people who came into close contact with the patient have been forced to self-isolate and are waiting on test results to see if they also have the deadly disease.  

‘A helicopter landed in the park outside and two ambulances arrived in the street outside his front door. I think the ambulance was there to transport him to the helicopter,’ one neighbour told The Sun.

Another family friend said: ‘I can’t believe it, we are all very worried for them and it’s worrying for us too. They’re such a lovely family and have two teenage children and they went skiing for half term. Now we know he has been infected everybody is getting advice on what to do.’ 

The Japanese Ministry of Health said the first Briton to die of coronavirus was the sixth person to succumb to the illness after travelling on the Diamond Princess.  

A total of 705 of the ship’s 3,711 passengers and crew were found to be infected during the lockdown, sparking severe criticism of how Japanese authorities had handled the case. 

Passengers were confined to their cabins on board the ship in what scientists described as an ideal breeding ground for the virus, with tourists also voicing concerns about the conditions on board. 

The UK government eventually chartered a flight to airlift 32 people home from the cruise ship, but dozens of Britons remained in Japan. 

Four of them were in hospital after testing positive, while others chose not to join the flight. 

The four known British patients included honeymooner Alan Steele, who has since recovered and flown back to Britain where he is under quarantine in the Wirral. 

Only two of the other three British patients were named: David and Sally Abel, from Northamptonshire, who are in hospital in Japan. Mr Abel yesterday posted footage of himself dancing in his hospital ward. 

Health bosses never named the fourth British patient, who was left behind for treatment in Japan.   

Japanese media said that the British victim was one of the 705 people who tested positive during the quarantine, apparently excluding the possibility that he was infected after leaving the ship.   

A tourist exercises in the hotel’s garden at H10 Costa Adeje Palace, which is on lockdown after novel coronavirus has been confirmed in Adeje, on the Spanish island of Tenerife, Spain

Two tourists peek out of hotel windows at H10 Costa Adeje Palace, which is on lockdown after novel coronavirus has been confirmed in Adeje, on the Spanish island of Tenerife, Spain

Health workers wearing protective gears check Nepali citizens evacuated from China as they are under quarantine following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, in Kharipati, some 20 km from Kathmandu

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a speech during a press conference on the new COVID-19 coronavirus at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo

A bus carrying passengers from the Diamond Princess – in this case passengers who were about to be flown home by the Israeli government – drives away from the cruise ship in Yokohama last week 

Donald Trump says Democrat criticism of White House response to coronavirus crisis is ‘their new hoax’ 

President Donald Trump said Democrat criticism of the White House response to coronavirus is ‘a new hoax intended to undermine his leadership’.

The President told a rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, that Democrats want to see him to fail and insisted the steps he has taken to keep cases to a minimum have prevented virus deaths in the U.S.

Trump insisted the steps he has taken had kept cases to a minimum and prevented virus deaths in the U.S.

‘A virus that starts in China, bleeds its way into various countries all around the world, doesn’t spread widely at all in the United States because of the early actions that myself and my administration took, against a lot of other wishes, and the Democrats’ single talking point, and you see it, is that it’s Donald Trump’s fault,’ Trump said.   

Trump acknowledged that coronavirus was a threat to the U.S. but insisted ‘we are ready, totally ready’. 

It comes after the fourth ‘unknown origin’ case of coronavirus in the US was confirmed as a 15-year-old student in Washington state, marking the third case confirmed in less than 24 hours where the patient hadn’t recently traveled or been in contact with another known case.

It emerged that the boy had returned to his Snohomish County school several days after showing signs of the disease, meaning his schoolmates may also be at risk.

Shortly after the news of the man’s death broke yesterday, health minister Jo Churchill said she was aware a British man who had been on board the Diamond Princess was ‘very poorly’.

She told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: ‘The Foreign Office are supporting the family of a British man who has been very poorly and was a passenger on board the Diamond Princess.

‘I haven’t had confirmation, because obviously I’m on the telephone to you, but I was aware there was a gentleman who was very, very poorly, and I’m sure like me your thoughts and sympathies go out to his family at this time.’ 

She added: ‘It is my understanding this British national doesn’t in fact reside in the UK, but lives elsewhere in the world. That makes absolutely no difference to his family. Our sympathies and thoughts are with them at this difficult time.’ 

Earlier today, a Japanese woman in her 70s who had also been on the Diamond Princess was revealed as the fifth cruise ship passenger to die from the virus. The British man is the sixth, and the first foreigner. 

Cruise operator Princess Cruises acknowledged the man’s death today and offered ‘sincere condolences’ to the passenger’s family and friends. 

A Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘We are supporting the family of a British man who has died in Japan and are in contact with local authorities. Our sympathies and thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.’  

Twenty patients have now been confirmed in the UK, after England confirmed two travellers had tested positive yesterday and Northern Ireland on Thursday announced its first case. Scotland has yet to be struck down.

One of the English cases yesterday is thought to be a 43-year-old mother in Buxton who caught the virus at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace Hotel in Tenerife, where hundreds of British holidaymakers have been quarantined. 

The other is thought to be a man in Surrey who was infected in Italy and flew to Britain from Milan, raising fears the COVID-19 disease is spreading outside of the 11 towns locked down in the north of the country.  

Questions are now being asked as to why passengers on flights from the Italian city, which is the closest airport to the locked-down area of northern Italy, are sailing through British airports without any health checks. 

Italy is the site of Europe’s worst outbreak so far, with 650 people infected and 17 dead, but authorities in some less-affected areas were today re-opening schools and museums in an effort to bring daily life back to normal. 

It comes as emergency plans are being drawn up by British health officials to contain the coronavirus. Schools could be closed for at least two months, major gigs and music festivals cancelled.  

Across the globe, the impact on the world economy grew more alarming today amid plunging business confidence, empty shops and amusement parks, cancelled events and drastically reduced trade and travel.

Health workers wearing protective gears check Nepali citizens evacuated from China as they are under quarantine following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, in Kharipati, some 20 km from Kathmandu

Indonesian women wear masks in a public area in Depok, West Java, Indonesia today

Welsh coronavirus patient is a father-of-two in his 40s who caught the deadly virus on a family ski trip in Italy 

Wales’ first coronavirus patient is a father-of-two businessman who caught the killer illness on a family skiing holiday in northern Italy who ‘has been out drinking and socialising’ since flying home.

The man, believed to be in his 40s, yesterday became the 19th person in Britain to be diagnosed with the deadly disease following the trip to the ski resort of Passo del Tonale, in the northern region of Lombardy at the heart of Italy’s outbreak.

Since returning home to Swansea earlier this week he is said to have been out drinking and socialising with friends and family before falling ill and being rushed to hospital in a helicopter on Thursday night, neighbours say.  

At least a dozen people who came into close contact with the patient have been forced to self-isolate and are waiting on test results to see if they also have the deadly disease.

Two ambulances turned up at his home in Swansea on Thursday night and a test proved positive for the virus.

A helicopter landed in a park opposite a home and he was flown to one of the four NHS centres set up for Coronavirus patients. 

A neighbour said: ‘They are a nice family, they’d been on a ski trip during the half term holidays. They go every year.

‘The dad wasn’t well but I think it’s more a case of keeping him in isolation to stop anyone else getting it.

‘But he’s been home since last weekend so anyone he’s been in contact with could have it.’

A friend of the businessman refused to open their front door and shouted through a window: ‘We’re in quarantine.’

New data released by manufacturing powerhouse China showed a sharp drop in the purchasing managers’ index to 35.7 in February, down from 50 in January. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a reading below shows contraction.

National Bureau of Statistics senior statistician Zhao Qinghe said the coronavirus outbreak was a direct cause of the sharp decline.

It came after already slumping financial markets around the world dropped even lower on Friday.

The list of countries touched by the illness has climbed to nearly 60 as Mexico, Belarus, Lithuania, New Zealand, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Iceland and the Netherlands reported their first cases.

More than 84,000 people worldwide have contracted the illness, with deaths topping 2,800.

China, where the outbreak began in December, has seen a slowdown in new infections and on Saturday morning reported 427 new cases over the past 24 hours along with 47 additional deaths. The city at the epicentre of the outbreak, Wuhan, accounted for the bulk of both.

New cases in mainland China have held steady at under 500 for the past four days, almost all in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.

With the number of discharged patients now greatly exceeding those of new arrivals, Wuhan has more than 5,000 spare beds in 16 temporary treatment centres, the National Health Commission said.

Official figures on Saturday showed 1,726 patients had been released in Wuhan the day before, against just 420 new cases in the city.

South Korea, the second hardest hit country, reported 813 new cases on Saturday – the highest daily jump since confirming its first patient in late January – raising its total to 3,150.

Emerging clusters in Italy and in Iran, which has had 43 deaths and 593 cases confirmed, have led to infections of people in other countries.

Iran has the highest death toll outside China, and health officials urged people not to attend funerals, as mass gatherings could help spread the virus.

Earlier on Saturday, Bahrain threatened to prosecute travellers who came from Iran and had not been tested. The island nation has been hard-hit and shut down flights to halt the spread, and all its cases link back to Iran.

France and Germany were also seeing increases, with dozens of infections.

Streets were deserted in the city of Sapporo on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido, where a state of emergency was issued until mid-March.

Medical members wearing protective gear take samples from a driver with suspected symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at a “drive-through” virus test facility in Goyang, north of Seoul today

A commuter line medical officer provides masks to passengers at the Depok Baru Train Station in Depok, West Java, Indonesia today

More than £250billion is wiped off top UK firms’ shares in a week 

More than £250billion has been wiped off top UK firms this week, as the FTSE 100 drops to its lowest level since July 2016 amid global coronavirus panic. 

The top-flight of London’s Stock Exchange tanked 13 per cent since Monday, the sharpest slump since the global crash of 2008. 

An eye-watering £210billion was slashed from the value of shares – including £58billion Friday as blue chip companies watched as their share prices went into free fall.

The biggest casualty yesterday was travel giant TUI, which saw shares plunge 9.5 per cent.

The weekly rout on the FTSE 100 is the third biggest on record, after the credit crunch in 2008 and the Black Wednesday crash in 1987.   

The spiralling health crisis, which has spooked investors, also pounded the FTSE 250, which dropped another 2.29 per cent, or £8.2billion. It has shed £44.4billion – or 11.3 per cent  

Seventy cases – the largest from a single prefecture in Japan – have been detected in the island prefecture, where experts have raised concern about growing clusters of patients with unknown transmission routes.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe, who has been criticised for lacking leadership and crisis management, stepped up measures earlier this week, and urged school across the county to close until the end of March.

Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan announced they would close, and events expected to attract tens of thousands of people were called off, including a concert series by K-pop group BTS.

Tourist arrivals in Thailand are down 50% compared with a year ago, and in Italy – which has reported 888 cases, the most of any country outside of Asia – hotel bookings are falling and premier Giuseppe Conte raised the spectre of recession.

The Swiss government banned events with more than 1,000 people, while at Cologne Cathedral in Germany, basins of holy water were emptied for fear of spreading germs.

Even in isolated North Korea, leader Kim Jong Un has called for stronger anti-virus efforts, saying there will be ‘serious consequences’ if the illness spreads to the country.

The North has yet to report its first infection but it has been pushing a tough campaign it has described as a matter of ‘national existence’. The country has shut down nearly all cross-border traffic, banned tourists, intensified screening at entry points and mobilised tens of thousands of health workers to monitor residents and isolate those with symptoms.

The head of the World Health Organisation on Friday announced that the risk of the virus spreading worldwide was ‘very high’, while UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said the ‘window of opportunity’ for containing the virus was narrowing.

In a report published on Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine, Chinese health officials said the death rate from Covid-19 was 1.4%, based on 1,099 patients at more than 500 hospitals throughout China.

Assuming there are many more cases with no or very mild symptoms, the rate ‘may be considerably less than 1%’, US health officials wrote in an editorial in the journal. That would make the virus more like a severe seasonal flu than a disease similar to its genetic cousins Sars or Mers.  

Are you sure you’re okay?! Man just released from coronavirus quarantine COUGHS his way through an interview and SHARES a water bottle with his three-year-old daughter 

A U.S. citizen who was evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China, could not stop coughing as he gave a TV interview of his experience of going through the quarantine process.  

Frank Wucinski and his three-year-old daughter Annabel were evacuated from Wuhan on February 4 and immediately placed in a 14-day quarantine in the MCAS Miramar military base in San Diego.

They were finally released on February 20. He gave a TV interview to Fox News on Friday but Wucinski appeared to be struggling with a cough that at times prevented him from speaking clearly. 

He was forced to take a bottle of water from his daughter sitting on his lap but handed it straight back to her, despite mentioning how the deadly virus seemed to be contagious. 

A father and daughter who have been released from quarantine after being evacuated from China appeared on Fox News but he could not stop coughing through the interview

Frank Wucinski with his daughter and wife before the coronavirus outbreak separated them

Frank Wucinski’s wife remained in China to tend to her father who has since died

Frank Wucinski and his daughter Annabel pictured as they left their 14-day quarantine

Wucinski racked his cough up to ‘nerves’ during his appearance on the weekday show ‘America’s Newsroom’. 

His wife, who is not a U.S. citizen, is still stuck in Wuhan and now suffering with pneumonia which may be coronavirus related. 

She had stayed in China to aid her father, who was hospitalized with the virus and passed away while Wucinski and Annabelle were in the California quarantine center. 

The family has lived in China for the past 15 years. They have spent two-thirds of that time in Wuhan, where his wife’s family lives. 

The father and daughter were evacuated from Wuhan to San Diego on February 4

Frank Wucinski documented his time in quarantine with his daughter Annabel on Twitter

 ‘I mean, I know just from my experience being in Wuhan when it all first started it was scary. You just didn’t know what was happening and what was going on,’ Wucinski told Fox News as he battled through stunted coughs. 

‘I think as time goes forward, hopefully, doctors and scientists will get a better handle on the whole situation.  

‘Fortunately, from what I understand, it is contagious, but the death rate is pretty low,’ he added. 

As he clearly struggled to continue, Wucinski was forced to take the water bottle Annabel was eagerly drinking from in an attempt to regain his composure. 

He continues to explain the cough away, reiterating that he was tested and cleared of the coronavirus and that his mystery cough had nothing to do with it.

‘They said I’m fine. I got tested twice, negative both times. The cough, probably just nerves,’ he added.   

Frank Wucinski, freed from 14-day quarantine, coughed as he spoke about the coronavirus

 Frank Wucinski was forced to take his daughter’s water bottle as he coughed continuously

Wucinski and his daughter were immediately separated and isolated as soon as they reached MCAS Miramar military base as a result of their contact with Wucinski’s father-in-law who had the virus. 

‘A few days later, Annabel just coughed in front of some staff,’ he told Fox News. 

‘They suggested we go to the medical tent. The medical tent contacted the CDC and they said that we should go back to isolation at the children’s hospital. So, we stayed there for about three days.’ 

When her test came out negative they were moved to the base on February 14 to complete the remainder of their 14-day quarantine.   

They were both released on February 20 after testing negative for the disease but now face large medical bills for their stay. 

 ‘Well, we’re meant to go for follow-up checkups at the hospital or with a doctor, So, we’re looking into trying to get some insurance because my insurance for work doesn’t work in America. So, we’re applying,’ he told Fox. 

‘Although I assumed all medical bills from our time in quarantine would be paid by the government, it turns out that I am financially responsible for the six days Annabel and I spent in isolation at the hospital,’ Wucinski explained on a GoFundMe page he has established for the family. 

‘Secondly, since I do not know how long we will be in the United States, I am looking into getting health insurance for the two of us, since my insurance in China does not cover American doctors. While it looks like my daughter might be eligible for free healthcare, I am not.’  

Frank Wucinski’s daughter Annabel coughed in front of medical staff and was brought to the local children’s hospital for isolation and further tests. She tested negative for the virus 

Frank Wucinski celebrates his release from quarantine with his daughter Annabel, aged 3

The family now faces medical fees to cover their six-day hospital stay in quarantine

The coronavirus has reached more than 57 countries with more than 84,000 deaths and more than 2,800 deaths. 

There are now 60 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. 

Experts admit they have no way of knowing the true figure because access to testing at present is severely limited.

The first U.S. case of coronavirus where the origin of the disease is unknown was confirmed on Wednesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the person, a resident in Northern California, had not recently returned from a foreign country, and had not been in contact with another confirmed case.

It later emerged that evening that the CDC had taken four days to test the woman, despite requests from medical staff, because ‘the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria for COVID-19’.

As many as 100 healthcare workers may have been exposed to the woman in the four days that she went untested. The doctors and nurses are from the University of California Davis Medical Center, where the woman is being treated, and from NorthBay VacaValley Hospital.

Shoppers wearing protective face masks buying toilet paper at a wholesale store in Mountain View, California, as people stock up on supplies due to increasing panic about the virus

Shoppers wearing protective face masks walking in a wholesale store in Mountain View, California, with 60 cases now confirmed in the United States

All of the 59 other cases in the U.S. have been for people who had traveled abroad or had close contact with others who traveled.

Earlier U.S. cases included 14 in people who returned from outbreak areas in China, or their spouses; three people who were evacuated from the central China city of Wuhan; and 42 American passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

So far, the U.S. strategy has focused almost exclusively on testing infected travelers, using a test that looks for genetic material from the virus in saliva or mucus. As of February 23, fewer than 500 people from 43 states had been or are being tested for the virus.

Currently, just seven state and local health departments have the ability to screen for the virus.

People have been panic buying items from stores ever since health authorities warned that Americans should start preparing for domestic acceleration of the virus, which has infected more than 80,000 people worldwide and killed nearly 3,000.  

U.S. stock indexes fell sharply again at the open on Friday as the coronavirus outbreak raised the alarm for a possible global recession.

Investors have been left reeling after virus fears wiped nearly $3 trillion off the combined market value of S&P 500 companies this week, with the index confirming its fastest correction in history in volatile trading on Thursday.

The Dow Jones Industrial average lost 463 points, or 1.8 percent, at the opening bell on Friday, and losses quickly widened to as much as 1,000 points one day after the index’s biggest one-day point drop in history.

If the Dow closes down by more than 1,000 points on Friday, it would be the third time this week and the second day in a row the index lost points in the four digits, something that had previously only happened twice in history. 

Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney confirmed the virus was likely to cause school closures

 It comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week for the first time advised American businesses, schools, hospitals and families to prepare for domestic acceleration of the virus, which has infected more than 80,000 people worldwide and killed nearly 3,000.

Schools across the United States are canceling trips abroad, preparing online lessons and even rethinking ‘perfect attendance’ awards as they brace for the possibility that the coronavirus could begin spreading in their communities. 

On Friday, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney confirmed that the coronavirus was likely to cause school closures across the U.S.

Mulvaney sought to reassure concerned Americans advising people ‘to turn their televisions off for 24 hours’. 

‘Are you going to see some schools shut down? Probably. Maybe see impacts on public transportation? Sure, but we do this. We know how to handle this,’ he said at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside of Washington D.C.  

President Donald Trump on Wednesday assured Americans that the risk of coronavirus transmission in the U.S. was ‘very low’ but he has been increasingly alarmed by the reaction of the U.S. stock market, which he considers a barometer of the economy’s health and sees as important to his re-election in November.

In tweets overnight, Trump said the coronavirus virus had spread ‘very slowly’ to the United States and defended his administration’s response so far.

Cruise ship crew pepper spray brawling passengers over feared mutiny onboard holiday vessel marooned in the Caribbean for three days in fresh coronavirus panic

    Crew onboard a luxury cruise ship pepper sprayed brawling passengers angry that the vessel had been marooned in the Caribbean for three days following a coronavirus scare. 

    Fellow passengers applauded the crew as they battled to reassert control on board the MSC Meraviglia during the fight which broke out in a dining hall. 

    A bystander captured video of the fighting among passengers in the dining hall on the ship. She said the video shows crew members pepper-spraying the people engaged in the fight.

    This is the moment brawling passengers on board the MSC Meraviglia were pepper sprayed by crew amid chaotic scenes. Passengers were angry after the vessel had been refused permission to dock at three Caribbean ports as a result of the coronovirus epidemic

    Fellow passengers applauded the crew for taking action against the fighting holidaymakers 

    The ship docked in Cozumel, Mexico, after it was turned away from two other ports, media reported.

    The cruise liner was denied permission to dock in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and Georgetown, the Cayman Islands, on Tuesday, February 25.

    MSC Cruises said Friday morning that the MSC Meraviglia vessel was given a clean bill of health by Mexican health officials. Medical checks were administered on a crew member and a female guest whom local Caribbean authorities feared were sick with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, reports said. The two reportedly had the flu.

    The company said the measures by Jamaica and Grand Cayman were ‘born out of fear, not best medical practice,’ and caused ‘unnecessary and unjustifiable anxiety’.

    The MSC Meraviglia, pictured had been denied permission to dock in three Caribbean ports before arriving at the island of Cozumel, off the Mexican coast. Eventually passengers were allowed to disembark after Mexican officials found no evidence of coronovirus on board

    MSC Cruises added that the 4,580 guests onboard will ‘receive a 100 percent refund of their cruise fare due to the disruptive nature of their vacation’.

    MSC Meraviglia passenger Blanca Haddad captured the videos. She told Storyful tensions were high aboard the vessel.

    ‘People were getting hyped. We were locked in a ship and couldn’t get off in the ports of Jamaica or Grand Cayman,’ Haddad said. 

    ‘People were becoming frustrated and began fighting with crew members. To stop the fight they sprayed us with pepper spray.’

    Haddad said the passengers and crew were allowed out in Mexico because testing came out negative for the two guests on board who were thought to be carrying the virus. 

    Empty seats, grounded planes and deserted terminals: Coronavirus impact on airline industry is already ‘WORSE than 9/11’ and could cost $30 billion in lost revenue this year alone

      As the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak ripples out from the epicenter in China, airlines have been among the hardest hit.

      Already, the outbreak is leading to sharp reductions in air travel demand in the US, with major companies such as Amazon ordering a freeze on all non-essential employee travel. The result is clear in photos showing empty airplane seats and deserted terminals.

      In China, the impact has been even more severe, with air travel plummeting 80 percent at the country’s busiest airports and mass cancellations of both domestic and international flights.

      The reduction in global airline capacity, measured by how many seats remain grounded, is now greater than after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, industry analysts say.

      A flight attendant from Denver with Frontier Airlines posted this photo of an empty plane on Wednesday

      A nearly empty Cathay Pacific flight is seen on the late-night Vancouver to New York route on February 22. The red-eye route was once popular

      The Tom Bradley International terminal at the Los Angeles International airport looks eerily quiet on Thursday as demand for air travel slumps

      After 9/11, airline revenue dropped an estimated $19.6 billion in 2002 dollars. The coronavirus crisis could cost the industry an estimated $29.3 billion in lost revenue for 2020, according to the industry group IATA.

      The group said on Friday that countries with confirmed virus cases in excess of 90 —China, Italy, Iran, Japan, Singapore and South Korea — represent 25 percent of global airline passenger numbers and 20 percent of global passenger revenues. 

      ‘Back after 9/11 at the end of 2001, it really took about nine months before we saw the industry recover from the impact of the events,’ said Wall Street Journal aviation correspondent Benjamin Katz. 

      ‘Now, with the coronavirus, it’s a very different situation and it’s difficult to give an assessment, but analysts are expecting with the coronavirus this could actually last quite a bit longer,’ he continued.

      With the extent of the crisis still unknown, experts cautioned that the full impact on airlines remains to be seen.

      ‘If we look back in ten years time, will this be seen as a blip or a game changer?’ IBA Aviation Consultancy CEO Phil Seymour told the Journal.

      ‘Most empty plane I’ve seen in a while,’ tweeted Yahoo Finance Editor in Chief Andy Serwer on this flight from Raleigh-Durham to JFK on Wednesday

      This traveler from Memphis relates from a flight on Tuesday: ‘The lady at the gate said, “this is not a full flight. Only 76 of you and it holds 145. If you’re not taking your own row, you’re living life wrong!”’

      Empty seats on a Thursday flight to Seattle are seen left, while right the JetBlue counter at JFK stands empty on Tuesday 

      The Tom Bradley International terminal at the Los Angeles International airport looks eerily quiet on Thursday

      On Friday, the flight cancellations continued around the globe, with United Airlines sharply cutting flights to Japan and South Korea.

      United ended down 5.2 percent on Friday and were down more than 22 percent over the last week. 

      The Chicago-based airline said near-term demand to China has almost disappeared and demand to the rest of its trans-Pacific routes has dropped by 75 percent, United said on Monday.

      Among U.S. airlines, United has the biggest international exposure, drawing about 40 percent of its revenues from overseas flights.

      Earlier this week, Delta cut also South Korea flights in half, citing the outbreak and plummeting demand.

      Even domestically in the U.S., airlines are starting to see slumping demand, as companies reconsider the need for business travel and conferences on the cusp of a potential outbreak. 

      On Friday, Amazon deferred all non-essential travel, within the U.S. and beyond, and Google set new restrictions for travel to South Korea and other places, as corporations moved to protect employees from the spread of coronavirus.

      As the cornavirus continues to effect worldwide travel, the Tom Bradley International terminal at the Los Angeles International airport looks eerily quiet on Thursday

      Workers and passengers alike continue to take precautionary measures against the virus

      Coronavirus fears have intensified in recent days since countries besides China have reported a sharp increase in cases, with six countries reporting their first cases.

      Amazon is one of the latest companies to clamp down on travel because of the outbreak, which has caused at least 2,797 deaths globally.

      Google is banning travel to Iran and two Italian regions, Lombardy and the Veneto, where the virus is spreading. The company will also ban travel to South Korea and Japan, from March 2, a spokesman for the company confirmed.

      Canada’s TD Bank Group told Reuters it was suspending all non-essential business travel to China, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Singapore. Its peer Bank of Nova Scotia has also reportedly halted non-essential travel.

      JetBlue which flies in the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America, became the first U.S. airline to offer waivers for all travel on Wednesday, announcing it would suspend change and cancellation fees for new flight bookings between February 27 and March 11 this year.


      ‘I have never seen a flight this empty’ said a passenger on this Thursday flight from San Diego to Sacramento

      Facebook also said it would cancel its annual developer conference in May because of the virus. 

      Among those who are still traveling, there are concerns about the screening process for international travelers at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

      Students Emily Ferrara and Blair Haworth told WCBS-TV they had just returned from Florence, Italy, where their study abroad program was canceled because of the virus outbreak, which has infected at least 300 in that country.  

      Yet, the students said they weren’t asked a single question about potential coronavirus symptoms once they landed in New York City.

      ‘We didn’t even get checked. Like, we’re used to being in Florence where you get your temperature checked. Here they didn’t do anything, which is kind of crazy,’ Ferrara said. 

      ‘Considering, like, how much the cases have spread so fast, like, they should definitely be taking more precautions here.’ 

      Coronavirus is a deadly wake-up call: Historian DOMINIC SANDBROOK says our modernity has made us so vulnerable to a threat spreading panic like a medieval plague 

      One day, long after the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is behind us, historians may see the last few days as the moment when the world tumbled into the abyss.

      On Thursday, the head of the World Health Organisation declared that mankind stood at a ‘decisive point’.

      The world faced ‘a crisis, an epidemic that is coming,’ agreed France’s President Emmanuel Macron. ‘We know that we’re only at the beginning.’

      He was right. Only a few hours after those words flashed around the world, stock markets began to crumble.

      We pride ourselves on our supremacy over the natural world and our mastery of science. But as the last week has shown, our modernity has made us weaker than ever, writes Dominic Sandbrook (pictured are women wearing face masks in Milan)

      By the end of play on Thursday, Wall Street’s Dow Jones index had suffered its greatest losses in history. 

      And when Asian and European markets opened yesterday morning, share prices immediately began to plunge. Not since the financial crisis of 2008 has the outlook been bleaker.

      But this, I fear, is in a different league altogether. As President Macron said, we are only at the beginning. And when you read about contingency plans for mass burials here in Britain — or about a potential nationwide death toll of at least 400,000 — it is hard not to feel a chill of foreboding.

      Perhaps you think that sounds alarmist. If so, listen to the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty.

      The coronavirus, he told health experts two days ago, now poses a major ‘problem for society’. Britain could face serious disruption ‘for quite a long period’. And to defeat it, we may have to pay a heavy ‘social cost’. His words came just hours before the first British coronavirus death was announced yesterday.

      When I heard Professor Whitty’s words, my mind went back 36 years. I was nine years old, and I had just caught a glimpse of my parents’ copy of the new Radio Times. The cover showed a man in a tattered traffic warden uniform, his face half-masked by a bandage. He was carrying what looked like a submachine gun.

      By the end of play on Thursday, Wall Street’s Dow Jones index had suffered its greatest losses in history (pictured traders at the opening bell on Friday)

      The image haunted me for days. Only later did I discover it was promoting the terrifying BBC drama series Threads, which depicted life in Britain during and after a nuclear war.

      I have often thought of Threads since the coronavirus epidemic started. Of course the disease is not remotely comparable to the shock of a nuclear apocalypse, not least since the mortality rate appears to be relatively low.

      Even so, how many people can honestly say that, in the dead of night, they have never stared up into the darkness, worrying about the future?

      All too often, cocooned in the complacency of daily life, we forget that we are only a step or two from disaster.

      A war, a nuclear accident, a natural catastrophe or, yes, a killer virus, and everything could change in an instant.

      Indeed, the words with which Threads opens are even more telling now than they were back in 1984, when we lived in the shadow of nuclear Armageddon.

      ‘In an urban society,’ says a narrator, ‘everything connects. Each person’s needs are fed by the skills of many others. Our lives are woven together in a fabric. But the connections that make society strong also make it vulnerable.’

      More than three decades on, those words have a chillingly prophetic ring.

      Every day has brought a chilling new development, with more than 84,000 people infected across the planet by last night. It feels like the stuff of some terrifying apocalyptic blockbuster (professionals are seen disinfecting a subway station in South Korea)

      Free trade, cheaper flights, globalisation and digital technology have brought us closer together than ever.

      We live in an age of unparalleled sophistication, freedom and comfort. We pride ourselves on our supremacy over the natural world and our mastery of science.

      But as the last week has shown, our very modernity has made us weaker than ever.

      Only a few weeks after the first cases were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the coronavirus has become a genuinely global scourge. Every day has brought a chilling new development, with more than 84,000 people infected across the planet by last night.

      One moment you are reading about towns shut down in Northern Italy, or foreign pilgrims being turned away from Saudi Arabia.

      The next, you hear that a primary school in Buxton has closed its doors, and that the Cabinet Office has contacted local authorities about ‘Excess Death Contingency Planning’, including possible sites for mass burials.

      It feels like the stuff of some terrifying apocalyptic blockbuster. Yet in some corners of the world, such stories are nothing new.

      The Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus outbreak killed 774 people in China in 2002 and 2003.

      Mers (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) killed 525 people between 2012 and 2015, most of them in Saudi Arabia.

      And Ebola killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa between 2013 and 2016.

      It was easy for us to ignore these stories. After all, they seemed so far away, so remote from our everyday lives. Yet as anyone familiar with history will know, our sense of security was always an illusion.

      You can easily tell the story of the past two thousand years, not as a saga of kings and battles, but as a succession of devastating pandemics.

      By far the most infamous is the Black Death. Just like the coronavirus, it spread along global trade routes, the contagion seeping unstoppably across the map.

      Although historians still argue about the details, it probably reached our shores in June 1348, when a merchant ship docked in Melcombe Regis, Dorset. Among its crew were a group of Gascon sailors who had fallen ill and had to be carried ashore.

      On inspection, their bodies were found to be covered with black blotches, boils and ulcers under the arms and in the groin.

      Within a few days the Gascons were dead. They had only just been buried when other sailors began to cough up blood.

      And when they began dying, too, Melcombe folk began to worry. But it was too late. On Midsummer Eve, the first Melcombe patients died. The Black Death had claimed its first English victims. Even now, centuries later, it is a genuinely terrifying story. Like the coronavirus, the plague almost certainly originated in the world’s most populous country, China, and travelled across the world’s trading networks into Europe.

      There was no cure. In Italy, recorded the poet Boccaccio, people ‘dropped dead in the open streets, both by day and by night’. As the graveyards filled up, the survivors dug deep trenches, in which corpses were piled ‘tier upon tier like ships’ cargo’. Today, when the Black Death has become the stuff of textbooks and exam papers, we have lost sight of what this actually meant.


      Emergency plans are being drawn up by health officials to contain the coronavirus, which could see schools closed for at least two months.

      England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty revealed an unprecedented ban on large public gatherings could be required to fight a global pandemic.

      The most extreme measure could be to mirror the decision to shut Japan’s entire school system, which will close from Monday for a month until April. 

      A shutdown would see millions of parents, including key workers such as surgeons, nurses and paramedics, forced to stay at home to care for their children.

      Professor Whitty admitted it is ‘just a matter of time’ until coronavirus spreads more widely and quicker through the UK.

      The fightback could include ‘reducing mass gatherings and school closures’, with Premier League matches either under threat or played behind closed doors.

      The London Marathon and the Grand National in April could also be at risk because of the large number of spectators.

      And this summer’s Euro 2020 tournament, which is being played in cities across the continent including London, Glasgow and Rome is under review.

      Theatre performances, gigs and music festivals such as Glastonbury could also be banned or pared back if the UK fails to get a grip on the crisis. 

      In Europe as a whole, about a third of the population died. In London, roughly every second person died. In places such as Italy and the south of France, the death rate may have been as high as 80 per cent.

      It is tempting, of course, to dismiss this as the kind of thing that happened during the dim and distant Middle Ages.

      But we are deluding ourselves if we think modern medicine is an inviolable safeguard against the ravages of nature.

      Modern medicine, after all, did nothing to protect our more recent forebears from the horrors of the ‘Spanish flu’ after World War I. (Incidentally, historians now think it began in Kansas, but because some of the first reports came from Spain, the Hispanic label has stuck.)

      Again, the figures defy imagination. One in three people worldwide was infected, and the death toll came to somewhere between 50 million and 100 million, more than both world wars combined.

      On current figures, the coronavirus is nowhere near as lethal — as long as it does not mutate, that is. Experts believe the mortality rate is between one and two per cent, although the WHO cautions that it is not known yet.

      Even so, its repercussions could well be devastating, not merely for affected families, but for our economy, our politics and our entire way of life.

      Just consider, for example, the economic impact so far, only a few weeks into what may prove a very long and deadly crisis.

      Stock markets have just had their worst week for more than a decade. Oil prices have plunged by more than 10 per cent.

      The epidemic in Lombardy seems almost certain to tip Italy’s economy into recession. Above all, China’s growth seems likely to fall by as much as half this year.

      According to some experts, this would make life impossible for some of its major banks, which have taken on massive debts in the last few years. Even apparently trivial details tell the story. Coca-Cola has warned that stocks of Diet Coke may run dry, because the virus has disrupted supplies of its raw sweeteners.

      And as the Mail reported, not only are dentists running out of surgical masks, but there is a shortage of wedding dresses in the UK and clothes manufacturers are running short of zips, which are largely produced in China.

      Some of these may seem like little things. But little things add up; and in any case, some consequences may not be so little.

      Even sober economists are now talking of a shock greater than the financial crisis of 2008. That could well send the entire world economy into recession, with unfathomable political repercussions.

      The last downturn, after all, gave us austerity, Brexit and Donald Trump.

      Throw millions of deaths into the mix — as well as massive social dislocation and authoritarian restrictions — and the consequences could be toxic indeed.

      Contrary to what is often thought, pandemics do not bring people together. Human nature being as it is, people tend to lash out. They look for somebody to blame, from the political elite to vulnerable minorities.

      People are seen leaving the Costa Adeje Palace hotel in La Caleta in Tenerife on Friday

      During the Black Death, for example, there was a marked spike in attacks on beggars, pilgrims and gypsies.

      Jews, in particular, were suspected of causing the plague by poisoning wells — precisely the kind of vicious conspiracy theory that you can imagine spreading on Twitter and Facebook today. From Toulon and Barcelona to Basel and Cologne, Jewish families were attacked and murdered.

      In Strasbourg, some 2,000 Jews were burned alive in one of medieval Europe’s first major pogroms.

      In England, meanwhile, the social and economic instability caused by the Black Death provoked the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, in which Wat Tyler led a mob into London, smashing, looting and burning. Although it was eventually put down, the death toll stretched into the thousands.

      Even the flu epidemic of 1918 to 1920 had colossal social consequences. It undoubtedly contributed to the widespread paranoia and instability that followed World War I, shattering faith in the established order and pushing people towards the rival extremes of communism and fascism.

      Grim stuff, then. So are there lessons we can learn?

      One obvious point is that — while we are rightly urged not to panic — downplaying or censoring the truth is generally a very bad idea.

      The first stages of the Spanish flu coincided with the final months of World War I, so newspapers and governments deliberately played it down.

      As a result, thousands, perhaps even millions of people, probably died unnecessarily.

      There is surely a moral there for secretive, authoritarian societies such as China and Iran. By and large, though, the striking thing is how few lessons we can learn — a depressing thought in itself.

      Does quarantine work, for example? Not necessarily. During the flu pandemic, Australia, which had strict quarantine regulations, suffered more losses, proportionally, than New Zealand, which did not.

      The truth is that although we can take every possible precaution, viruses will always be with us. Falling ill is part of being human.

      Sometimes the obvious lessons are wrong. During the 1918 to 1920 pandemic, New York’s health commissioner refused to close the schools, arguing that children would be easier to monitor and treat if they went to school.

      People thought he was mad, but he was right. In New York, there were fewer cases of flu among children, proportionately, than in any other major city.

      All this, I know, hardly makes for cheerful weekend reading. So it is worth repeating that, so far, the coronavirus seems to be less deadly than the Spanish flu, and certainly much less deadly than the aptly-named Black Death.

      Perhaps, then, the worst will not happen, and society will escape largely unscathed.

      Even so, the coronavirus could hardly be a more frightening warning. All too often, we boast that we have conquered disease, extended our lifespan, overcome our limitations and transformed our planet.

      But in our hubris, we often forget that to be human is to be weak. We have not mastered nature; we survive only because nature allows us to.

      And the more sophisticated our society becomes, the more we weave our webs of connections, the more we depend on machines and computers, the more vulnerable we become.

      All it takes is one infinitesimal virus to tug on a thread, and the whole tapestry could unravel in an instant.

      Source: Read Full Article