Matt Hancock: 'If coronavirus becomes a pandemic we can't stop it coming to UK'

25 February 2020, 08:14 | Updated: 25 February 2020, 09:24

In Italy, seven people have now died from the illness, while a further 229 are infected
In Italy, seven people have now died from the illness, while a further 229 are infected. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The government has changed official coronavirus advice for anyone who has visited areas of northern Italy which are under quarantine.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told LBC the official advice around coronavirus is being updated so that people returning to the UK from anywhere in northern Italy should self-isolate if they have flu-like symptoms.

He told LBC if the COVID-19 virus does become pandemic it cannot be stopped from coming to the UK in a “big way”.

He was speaking as China reported 508 new cases and another 71 deaths on Tuesday, 68 of them in the central city of Wuhan, where the epidemic was first detected in December.

The updates bring mainland China's totals to 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths.

Read more: Coronavirus: What is a pandemic and how is one declared?

South Korea now has the second-most cases in the world with 893 and has had a near 15-fold increase in reported infections in a week, with 60 new cases reported on Tuesday.

In Italy, 229 people have tested positive for the virus and seven have died, police manned checkpoints around a dozen quarantined northern towns as worries grew across the continent.

Read more: Coronavirus UK: Do surgical face masks work to avoid virus symptoms?

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari, Mr Hancock added that people returning from any areas quarantined by the Italian government should self-isolate whether they show symptoms or not.

Read more: Family self-isolated due to 'people’s fears' over coronavirus

He said: "The official advice which will be formally updated at eight o'clock this morning is going to change so that those who have been to northern Italy - north of Pisa - if they have flu-like symptoms should self-isolate.

"If people have been to the affected areas that the Italian government have quarantined then they should self-isolate whether or not they have symptoms."

Read more: Brighton shop owner asks customers to wear masks and gloves amid coronavirus fear

Mr Hancock said the Government was not aware of any Britons who were in the quarantined areas of northern Italy.

But he urged anyone to make contact with the embassy in Rome.

"We are not aware of any British citizens who are within the quarantined area, if they are we would ask them to get in contact with the consulate in Rome," he told the BBC.

Mr Hancock said that there were no changes to travel advice about going to Italy but those returning and showing symptoms should self-isolate.

He added: "In terms of going to Italy as a whole we haven't changed that travel advice.

"But we are clear that if you come back from northern Italy and you have symptoms then you should self-isolate."

Read more: ‘Don’t die, please buy’ Glasgow newsagent sells out entire stock of coronavirus face masks

Happening Now