Coronavirus: COVID-19 UK outbreak, measures and impact

Praveen Duddu 30 March 2020 (Last Updated September 7th, 2020 17:33)

The UK confirmed its first 2019-nCoV (now COVID-19) infection case, following France and Germany, on 31 January 2020 and has since then been witnessing an increase in the coronavirus cases.

Coronavirus: COVID-19 UK outbreak, measures and impact

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The UK Department of Health has declared the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak as a serious and imminent threat to Britain, with the number of confirmed COVID-19 (previously 2019-ncov) global cases rising across the world.

Coronavirus: Covid 19 UK confirmed and suspected cases

UK coronavirus cases crossed 19,784 on 30 March with a high number of cases reported in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive for the virus on 27 March.

A Bristol university student tested positive for coronavirus on 12 March.

Coronavirus in the UK has caused more than 1,228 deaths. The first COVID-19 UK death was reported on 05 March of a woman in her 70s with underlying health conditions.

Health officials earlier announced new cases in London, West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Hertfordshire and Gloucestershire. Contact tracing revealed that the coronavirus was imported from Italy and Iran.

The first cases of novel coronavirus in the UK were confirmed on 31 January 2020, in two members of the same family.

Four cases were reported on 23 February, who contracted the virus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The UK government repatriated 30 citizens and two Irish citizens on the cruise ship on 22 February.

According to Prof Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist advising the UK government, coronavirus cases in the country are showing early signs of decline after the nation-wide lock-down was announced. Health experts, however, warn that deaths in the country to reach more than 30,000.

Testing for coronavirus in the UK

Public Health England (PHE) rolled out the novel coronavirus diagnostic test it has developed to laboratories across the nation on 10 February. A laboratory request form E28 for coronavirus testing has been provided to the citizens.

London has one laboratory where the diagnostic test can be performed, while PHE aims to increase the number of coronavirus testing labs further.

Laboratories are testing for coronavirus at Cambridge, Bristol and Manchester as well as Scotland, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

One laboratory each was announced in Northern Ireland, Wales, London, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle, and Southampton.

PHE’s laboratories in Colindale are performing confirmatory tests.

Coronavirus measures by the UK government

The UK government has been on high alert as the coronavirus cases increase. Coronavirus has been added to the list of notifiable diseases enabling Public Health England to report the cases more timely and accurately.

The whole of Italy has been added to Category 2 countries, which means travellers coming from Italy into the UK will need to self-isolate in case they develop coronavirus disease symptoms.

Lock-down in the UK

The UK government announced a nation-wide lock-down on 23 March. People have been asked not to leave their homes unless for essential needs, and gatherings of more than two people have been banned. All non-essential stores, places of worship, gyms, libraries and playgrounds have been closed.

Parks are still open for physical activities such as exercise although groups of more than two are not allowed. The lock-down is expected to be in place until June 2020 although some reports suggest that it may be further extended.

Evacuations from Wuhan

The UK government has started evacuating its citizens from Wuhan in special planes.

A batch of 118 evacuees reached the UK on 09 February and is isolated at a 300-bed accommodation facility at Kents Hill Park in Milton Keynes for 14 days, which is the incubation period for the nCoV.

The evacuees were released from quarantine on 23 February after testing negative for the virus.

Medical supplies stock retained

The UK government currently sees no shortages in medical supplies but has advised companies to retain the existing stock of medical supplies. It was a contingency measure in the Brexit context.

Measures taken by UK airports and airlines against COVID-19

The UK’s flag carrier British Airways began preventive measures by cancelling direct flights to and from China. The airline has cancelled hundreds to flights to Europe and various other regions including  Italy, France, UK and Albania, as COVID UK cases continue to increase.

British private airline Virgin Atlantic too announced similar measures and is offering full refund for bookings made for future dates and partial refund if the travel has already commenced.

Screening for the nCoV infection is in place at all major airports. Medical staff are deployed at all airports and public health experts team is made available in Heathrow.

Travellers returning from Iran and South Korea are required to self-isolate.

Coronavirus: UK travel advise to Britons

The UK has advised travellers that returned from nine countries 14 days prior to beginning the quarantining to not come out of their homes during the incubation period and avoid contact with other people.

Such travellers have also been advised to inform the National Health Service (NHS) of their recent travel to that country. The list of countries includes China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Macau.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised against travelling to Hubei province during the outbreak and against all but essential travel to China.

The UK also advised against all but essential travel to provinces on the Thailand-Malaysia border, such as Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Southern Songkhla. More than a million Britishers annually visit Thailand, which is among the high-risk countries from coronavirus.

Similar advices have been made on travels to other coronavirus-affected countries.

Travel advice to Italy

The government issued a new travel advisory for Italy on 25 February, following a spike in cases in the country. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the UK has advised citizens to avoid all essential travel to ten areas of Lombardy region and one region in Veneto in Italy. Those citizens who have recently visited these areas have been asked to self-isolate.

Further, several schools are planned to be closed to curb the spread of the disease. Few schools have already sent home pupils and teachers who recently went from skiing trips to Italy. They have been asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine development efforts by the UK

The UK announced a £20m ($26m) donation to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to support the development of coronavirus vaccines.

Scientists at Imperial College London are testing a nCoV vaccine on animals.

Coronavirus impact on the UK economy and businesses

UK companies either exporting to China or having significant Chinese operations are expected to be affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

China accounted for 9.4% of total goods imports from the UK in November 2019. China is also among the five biggest markets for UK’s imports.

KPMG has forecast a 2.6% decline in 2020 for the UK economy although a prolonged pandemic may result in further contraction. The forecast also noted that the UK economy is expected to recover in the second half of 2021.

The Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) indicates that the economy may shrink at a quarterly rate of 1.5%-2%. Economists at Morgan Stanley, however, forecast a higher contraction of 5%, provided social restrictions are relaxed in the second half of the year.

The UK government announced that it will pay 80% of the wages of approximately 28 million employees in the private sector to reduce the unemployment rate in the country. The government also announced that it will provide a taxable grant worth 80% of average monthly profits or up to 2,500 pounds ($3,000) a month for approximately 3.8 million severely affected self-employed people.

UK coronavirus situation: companies affected

A number of British companies are being affected either directly or indirectly due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, some of which are listed below.

Production at Chinese facilities of Volex, a cable assemblies supplier based in the UK, has been hit due to extended closure of manufacturing plants. Three of the company’s four plants in China are yet to resume production as of 10 February, while one plant is operational, although at a reduced capacity.

UK-based global luxury brand Burberry Group has expressed concerns over sales dipping in Mainland China and Hong Kong due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. The company has closed 24 of its 64 stores in Mainland China, while other stores too are operational for limited hours.

Burberry’s Asia Pacific sales witnessed a low single-digit percentage growth, which was driven by Chinese mid-teens. Significant fall in footfalls in Mainland China stores are foreseen to have a negative impact on its Asia Pacific sales in the short-term.

Burberry’s sales in Hong Kong halved during the last reported quarter and are only expected to fall further due to the border closures in Hong Kong.

Coronavirus impact on oil prices and demand

The oil prices have fallen by approximately 17% due to the ongoing Covid 19 novel coronavirus outbreak, since they peaked in January 2020.

British Petroleum (BP) opined that the global oil consumption could see a 0.5% decline due to lower demand resulting from the coronavirus outbreak, based on initial estimates. The company expects the consumption to fall by up to 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) and foresees supply cuts by oil companies in the short-term.

Further price correction could occur if the outbreak continues to affect logistics and travel.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) too has announced that oil demand will be reduced due to the coronavirus impact.