Coronavirus cases in the UK have been contained to 13 but the growing number of infected patients across Europe has caused public institutions like schools to shut down their doors to avoid contagion. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps refused to rule out shutting down the transport systems in affected areas should the deadly COVID-19 spread further across those communities and threaten the rest of the country. ITV political editor Robert Peston asked the Tory frontbencher: “Let’s look at what’s happened in China. They managed to delay the spread because they have literally ring-fenced, shut down, entire cities.
“Do you think you could genuinely rule out a situation where you, as Transport Secretary, wouldn’t order a cessation of public transport in a particular area, for example?
“You must be contingency planning.”
Mr Shapps did not directly respond to the question but insisted the current situation in the UK does not compare to the quick spread of coronavirus witnesses in either the epicentre in China or Italy over the past month.
He said: “I think we’re way ahead of where we need to be. Let me say this – in China, remember how it got going in the first place.
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“We had a case of someone who sadly died from this who they had identified very early. And because this wasn’t a recognised thing, people didn’t believe it was actually a new disease that was killing people.
“Those siren voices were ignored by which point, the virus had spread too far too many people. We’re not in that position here – people know about it, people know the precautions.
“Wash your hands regularly – that’s something people should do anyway anytime. If you feel ill, call 111 and isolate yourself.”
Mr Shapps added: “Those are very simple things. I know because it sounds so simple, it feels like you’re not doing anything. But those are exactly the things that will stop this thing from spreading.”
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The whole landlocked Hubei region in China has been in lockdown since the end of January after Chinese officials identified the international hub of Wuhan as the hotbed of coronavirus.
The number of infected in mainland China surpassed 70,000 and COVID-19 has since spread across the world, with over 1,000 patients being treated in South Korea and northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto effectively in quarantine after patients increased from 3 to over 400 in less than a week.
A dozen towns in the area of the Codogno, 60km southeast of Milan, and Vò Euganeo, 50km southwest of Venice, have been put in lockdown with the Police monitoring all travel in the area.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte last week introduced “extraordinary measures” in a bid to control the rampant spread of coronavirus across Italy.
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And British pupils and teachers returning from a skiing holiday in northern Italy have been quarantined after they returned to the UK despite testing negative at airport checks when heading home.
The Foreign Office issued updated travel advice for Britons returning from the region affected, asking them to stay home for 14 days should they develop flu-like symptoms.
Several European countries have announced their first coronavirus cases, with all appearing to be linked to the growing outbreak in Italy.
Austria, Croatia and Switzerland said the cases involved people who had been to Italy, as did Algeria and Africa.
The first positive virus test has also been recorded in Latin America and was a Brazilian who had just returned from Italy.
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