Published On: Sat, Feb 1st, 2020

“Quarantined” China-flight passengers mingle, even go outside as govt ignores warning coronavirus can spread before symptoms

‘Quarantined’ passenger says he and others can mingle freely and go outside – as DHSC admits it is telling patients to ‘self-isolate’
One of today’s front-page headlines about returning passengers arriving on Merseyside

Worried Wirral residents’ fears about the effectiveness of the quarantine of passengers brought back from the epicentre of the coronavirus are deepening after details of the passengers’ ‘isolation’ emerged on Radio 4 this morning – details confirmed to the SKWAWKBOX by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

As of this morning the virus had infected at least 12,000 people in China and had caused 259 deaths. The government has brought back UK citizens from Wuhan, where the virus first emerged, and has said they will be held in quarantine in Arrowe Park hospital in the Wirral area of Merseyside.

But while passenger Matt Raw told the BBC that he and his fellow passengers felt well looked-after, he also revealed that they are all allowed to mingle freely with anyone in the section of the hospital where they are held, as long as they wear a face mask, and that they can open their windows and even go outside.

However, as the ‘i‘ paper confirmed this week expert opinion is divided on the effectiveness of face masks in blocking the transmission of viruses, with the head of emerging diseases at Public Health England admitting that the benefits of wearing them are a ‘perception’ when not used by experts and any benefit required them to be worn correctly, changed regularly and disposed of carefully.

The i also pointed out that the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) is unwilling to recommend such masks for preventing the spread of disease, saying that they “may not effectively limit transmission in the community”.

The DHSC press office confirmed that passengers are allowed to mingle and go outside – but went further, saying that it is leaving it up to them to isolate themselves:

The DHSC added that their Chief Medical Officer’s advice is that people infected with the coronavirus cannot pass on the disease until they manifest symptoms.

“There’s no doubt”

However, this advice directly contradicts the latest statement by the USA’s most senior infectious disease expert that studies show that “there’s no doubt” that those infected can pass on the disease before they have any symptoms:

The government has used reassuring language of ‘quarantine’ and ‘isolation’ to ease fears that the disease may spread from the passengers at Arrowe Park hospital.

However, the devil is in the detail. That detail, including the DHSC’s own comments, suggests that the ‘quarantine’ is hardly total and is based on assumptions that do not stand up to the latest information available, while using a barrier of questionable effectiveness and relying on the discretion of the passengers themselves, who are unlikely to have medical expertise.

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