First Essex coronavirus case: ‘It’s time to listen to experts’

PUBLISHED: 08:13 04 March 2020 | UPDATED: 14:45 04 March 2020

Photo: Tuned_In/Getty Images/iStockphoto.

Photo: Tuned_In/Getty Images/iStockphoto.


The first case of coronavirus (COVID-19) was confirmed in Essex.

The first case of coronavirus (COVID-19) has been confirmed in Essex.

The news came from the Department of Health on Sunday, March 1. According to the latest Department of Health data, 85 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the UK; this comes after yesterday, March 3, World Health Organisation's latest records revealed 39 confirmed cases across the country, making it the fifth biggest number of national cases in Europe.

Meanwhile, this newspaper has spoken to high-profile local authorities, who have shared their thoughts regarding the new virus.

Uttlesford District Council (UDC) Liberal Democrat Cllr Mike Tayler for Thaxted and the Eastons, who is also a GP, said coronavirus is "very important" but "not a major issue".

He expressed his worries regarding government cuts on public health services over the years, and the politicians' inability to understand and help the key people who react to health crises: "General practice has been massively underfunded for years and politicians tend to not understand how general practice works, this is where the big strain comes from. The biggest worry is if health professionals become ill and the pressure can become even greater.

"I retired as a GP. I am one of those the government might want to bring back, except I am already working in two surgeries in Uttlesford. It's dealing with uncertainty and I think doctors are quite good at dealing with uncertainty, so we will do the best we can and take the advice of experts. This is the time of listening to the real experts and by that I mean public health experts, virologists and epidemiologists, people who study it. We got to understand the nature of this virus. I, as a GP, will try to understand who is affected and why. For some people it's very serious. We got to understand why these things are happening.

"The most important thing is that people think about others rather than themselves and this is a philosophical statement, not a political one."

The Essex County Council cabinet member for health and adult social care, Conservative councillor John Spence called for people to be "calm and proportionate" with regard to the "relatively mild form of virus".

He said: "We have had one case, in a county of one and a half million people."

Cllr Spence declared himself satisfied with the county council's collaboration with public health workers.

"We have very well-developed plans in place to deal with whatever comes next," he said, adding:

"I would ask all Essex residents to make sure they don't create facilities to spread the illness. Keep aware of personal hygiene and keep aware of the things you can do to minimise the spread, such as catching coughs and sneezes in tissues and then disposing of those tissues. And keep washing those hands."

A spokesperson for Stansted Airport said: "As with all other UK airports, we are following guidance from Public Health England (PHE). At this moment in time, it's business as usual in terms of the airport's operation and flight schedules, with no changes to staffing levels or procedures.

"Posters and leaflets are in place to give passengers the latest public health guidance, including information about what they should do if they feel unwell on their return."

Meanwhile, passengers are advised to check the latest flight information with their airlines, and, if in doubt check the government's travel advice online. Recent travellers to areas currently considered affected, who are showing any symptoms, have also been advised to self-isolate and call 111. The countries concerned are primarily in Asia, according to government information.

The airport spokesperson highlighted the airport will continue to work with PHE to determine what futher steps need to be taken, depending on future developments.

This newspaper attempted to find out where in Essex the coronavirus case was identified, but PHE refused to comment until England's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, releases that information. We contacted Professor Whitty, the UK government's chief medical adviser, through Twitter, but received no response.

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