The government is evacuating around 200 British nationals from Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province and will quarantine them for 14 days to safeguard against the possible spread of the new coronavirus.
How is the coronavirus quarantine going to work?
Nick Gibb, the school standards minister, told Sky News the plan is for the UK citizens to be taken to an NHS facility on their return where they will be kept for 14 days.
They will initially land at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire at 8.45am on Friday before being taken to a facility – Sky News understands this will be in northwest England.
It is thought the passengers will have to agree to whatever treatment is recommended by experts.
People who have already recently returned to the UK from Wuhan have been told to “self-isolate” even if they have no symptoms.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement to the House of Commons last week: “Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people – and contact NHS 111. If you are in Northern Ireland, you should phone your GP.
“If you develop respiratory symptoms within 14 days of travel to the area, and are now in the UK, call your GP or ring 111 informing them of your symptoms and your recent travel to the city.
“Do not leave your home until you have been given advice by a clinician.”
Has anyone been quarantined in the UK in the past?
Yes. Pauline Cafferkey contracted Ebola in December 2014 after treating patients in Sierra Leone at the height of the outbreak which killed more than 11,000 people.
The nurse was treated with an experimental anti-viral drug and blood from a survivor of the virus.
She spent almost a month being treated in an isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital in London and was discharged in January 2015 after it was thought she had recovered from the virus.
But months later, in October 2015, she was flown from Glasgow back to the hospital by a military plane after an “unusual late complication” caused her to fall ill again, with meningitis caused by Ebola.
She was taken back for a third stay by a RAF Hercules to be treated for “a late complication from her previous infection”.
The hospital has a high level isolation unit (HLIU) which is used for treating infectious diseases – and is always fully prepared to admit a patient at very short notice.
Sky News has not been able to uncover evidence of any mass UK quarantine programmes in the modern era.
What are the current quarantine laws?
Under the Health and Social Care Act 2008, the secretary of state has the power to make “health protection regulations” to prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health response to an incident or to the spread of infection or contamination, even if the threat originated from outside the country.
This includes enforcing special requirements and restrictions – if there is a serious and imminent threat to public health – including “medical examinations, removal to or detention in a hospital or other establishment, or isolation or quarantine”.
And it includes powers to create new offences and enable courts to order that anyone convicted of an offence under the regulations take or pay for any remedial action.
To prevent the spread of infection or contamination, the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act allows magistrates to impose restrictions and requirements on individuals, premises, groups, and objects through orders, known as “Part 2A Orders”, which only councils can apply for.
Orders may require an individual to:
- Submit to medical examination
- Be removed to a hospital or other suitable establishment
- Be detained in a hospital or other suitable establishment (unless otherwise stated, for a maximum period of 28 days)
- Be kept in isolation or quarantine (unless otherwise stated, for a maximum period of 28 days)
- Be disinfected or decontaminated
- Wear protective clothing
- Provide information or answer questions about their health or other circumstances
- Have their health monitored and the results reported
- Attend training or advice sessions on how to reduce the risk of infecting or contaminating others
- Be subject to restrictions on where they go or with whom they have contact
- Abstain from working or trading
- Provide information about the identity and location of other individuals that may be infected or contaminated who pose a risk to others, so they can be traced
The magistrate can only issue such orders if they are satisfied that a person may be infected or contaminated, could present significant harm to human health, and there is a risk the person may infect or contaminate others.
What action are other countries taking?
Australia, South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand and Indonesia have said they will also quarantine evacuees for at least two weeks.
The US and Japan are planning shorter periods of voluntary isolation.
Australia has said it will put its evacuees on Christmas Island, which is situated around 1,600 miles off its coast and which had been used to hold thousands of refugees between 2002 and 2018.