Scottish health bosses are looking for sites to set up isolation centres to cope with the coronavirus after 65 people in one city were tested for the infection in the past three weeks.
All the results in Edinburgh came back negative, but NHS Lothian is stepping up preparations for the possible spread of the virus, including the plans for isolation centres.
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The coronavirus has so far claimed over 1000 lives and there are over 40,000 known cases in 27 countries around the world.
Health bosses in Lothian have set up a team which can respond to suspected cases by going to test people in their own homes.
And they are looking for community facilities which could be used to isolate confirmed cases if people cannot isolate themselves at home.
Professor Alison McCallum, NHS Lothian’s director of public health and health policy, said extensive planning was under way.
She told health board members the statistics on coronavirus, the proportion of people being admitted to hospital, the length of their stay and the mortality rate were not reliable.
“So the planning we are doing is going to be based on pandemic flu because that’s the closest thing we’ve got.”
She said as of Tuesday, there had been 42,638 cases of coronavirus and 1016 fatalities reported in mainland China, as well as 464 cases internationally.
A total of 1134 individuals had been tested in the UK, eight were positive and 1126 negative.
“In Lothian, since the first possible case was notified on January 22, 65 suspected cases have been tested and to date all of them have been negative.
“Most of our possible cases are people who very quickly report symptoms to NHS 24 or during the day phone their GP.”
She said the strategy was to avoid the virus getting into hospitals.
Avoid bringing virus to healthcare centres
“We have been able to set up very rapidly a community testing facility where we have a car and trained staff go out to people to avoid them having to come into healthcare facilities.
“We’re looking at community facilities that would allow people who can’t isolate themselves at home to be cared for outside hospital.
“And we now have testing for this new virus in Edinburgh which means we are getting results more quickly.
“While all the estimates are unreliable, what we are planning for is containment but at the same time a bad flu season in the spring into the summer and if this turns out not to be a seasonal bug a bad flu season in the winter.
“There is still a chance containment will work, but we absolutely have to plan for the most reasonable worst case scenario of pandemic flu and then scroll back from that.”
Professor McCallum said NHS Lothian was having regular teleconferences with Health Protection Scotland, the Chief Medical Officers for England and Scotland; it was co-ordinating with other Scottish health boards; the Scottish Government’s resilience committee had started meeting daily; and there were discussions through Cosla to ensure council services were joined up.