14 Feb 2020

Coronavirus: Is Britain Ready?

How deadly is the coronavirus? How fast can it spread? What are the best precautions? Will we end up responding to it the way China has done? And how prepared are we in Britain?

Brighton, home to the UK’s first cluster of Coronavirus cases, is feeling the pressure. With schools, doctors surgeries and individual residents taking precautions – there are many urgent questions swirling.

How deadly is it? How fast can it spread? What are the best precautions? Will we end up responding to it the way China has done? And how prepared are we in Britain? Tonight we have some answers.

In an exclusive survey for tonight’s special programme on the response to the emerging cases in the UK, ‘Coronavirus: Is Britain Ready?’ Channel 4 News carried out an exclusive survey of over 500 front-line health workers.

96% of respondents told us they believe the NHS isn’t ready to deal with a major outbreak, with 93% saying that there isn’t enough protection for NHS staff on the front-line.

Asked whether they think the healthcare system can cope with what might be around the corner, 88% believe there aren’t adequate facilities such as isolation areas to cope with large numbers of suspected Coronavirus cases. Meanwhile 81% felt there has not been enough preparation for the Coronavirus.

One health worker, a GP who is pregnant, said she was “genuinely scared” by the current situation.

Another health worker told Channel 4 News: “patients get unreliable, inconsistent and potentially dangerous advice from 111. High risk patients are still being told to see their GP”.

Another says they have had “no briefing on masks” and had instead resorted to buying their own from a hardware store.

As the international community desperately tries to understand more about this previously unseen virus – and to find a vaccine – Matt Frei speaks to some of the scientists at the forefront of the research – who  tell him how Britain will cope with the widespread public health emergency.

Professor Neil Ferguson, from the School of Public Health, Imperial College London, has been working for weeks to model the virus. He said: “I would much prefer to be accused of overreacting than under reacting.

“This virus is the one which probably concerns me the most out of everything I’ve worked on.”

He added: “Given we know a lot about how these viruses are spread we have lots of data from past epidemics. Given how transmissible this virus appears to be and that fact that at least all adults can be infected, we have much less data in children, then 60 per cent is a reasonable figure. Within the first 12 months or so. What we don’t know at the moment is if everybody infected. What proportion might die and what are the risk groups? Our best estimates at the moment is that maybe one per cent of people who get infected might die.”

Paul Cosford, Emeritus Medical Director, Public Health England tells the programme: “We are in very early stages of dealing with novel coronavirus. We are making sure there is advice going out to hospitals across the country.

“The Chief Medical Officer, the Medical Director of NHS England and others, writing regular basis with updates to guidance, there are extensive plans across both the NHS, wider government systems [and] Public Health England to deal with whatever the eventuality may be, now that eventuality in the worst case scenario is not without its challenges and those challenges may be significant for the NHS, and they will be prepared and thinking about how to deal with those.

“I don’t think we can say there won’t be any difficulties if we do get into that scenario.”

Coronavirus: Is Britain ready? airs tonight on Channel 4 at 7.30pm.